Tension was running high. There weren’t many weeks left until the St
Nicolas Concert and the Music Department of one-plus-a-few peripatetics
was becoming visibly anxious, willing the older boys’ voices to resist
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle School
was almost falling asleep in the foetid heat of the rehearsal room.
Almost, but not quite. He was there in his capacity of judge and jury,
for he had once sung the lead role in a very good amateur performance
of Camelot, but he refused to lower himself to participate in a school
production. He regarded himself as a semi-pro.
He was incredibly proud of his daughter, Drusilla, who had been persuaded
to play her harp in the second half of the evening, when Britten’s Ceremony of
Carols was to have its run through. He had also passed on a few useful tips
on breathing to Nigel Milford-Haven, tenor and eponomyous Saint, whose day
job made him a little lower than the angels, as far as his mentor was
He had been secretly impressed by Nigel’s practical assistance in manoeuvering
Drusilla’s weighty instrument into the hall. She had been surprised at such
strength being demonstrated from what some would term a weedy guy-the
type who has sand kicked in his face. Usually she preferred a bass, but
chivalry seemed to be a tenor characteristic.
The basses just wondered why he didn’t ask the school caretaker to assist.
They felt they had brains as well as brawn. But they couldn’t know how love
gave Nigel the power to shift mountains.
Drusilla, being a House Mistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-
Gifted Girl, was playing a dual role. She was accompanying, in both senses of
the word, some of the members of the girl’s choir, who had been jolly rousing
in the movement where they had been drafted in to brew a storm in the
Journey to Palestine section. They had to sing, standing in the upper gallery of
the hall, on a pierced wrought iron platform, as if they were on a boat, but
Drusilla had stipulated that they should wear non-uniform trousers for the
evening. In spite of this modest attire, they still raised a typhoon of raging
emotion in the ranks of the older, pre and mid-pubescent male voices and
nearly made a shipwreck of the session.
Gus’ head was just about to lag and his breathing was threatening to splutter,
when his attention became riveted by the words of the Nunc Dimittis, which Mr
Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster, was conducting so feelingly.
How very apposite! thought Gus. Those words! The boys must sing this at my
retirement, in the very near future. I have been a shepherd; I have been kind
and courageous: a ‘spendthrift in devotion’. I have guided boys through all
kinds of perils, on land and sea…Is that a different hymn? I have defended
them from the injustices of cruel men. I mean, some of my past colleagues
were quite unreasonable. Like St Nicolas….Ah! Didn’t I overhear Pollux
Willoughby of Transitus A say that I was a legend in my lunch hour? Or was
it in his lunch hour?
He could foresee a-what was the collective term for a group of grateful
parents?– ‘pension fund of parents‘ pouring from a brass, no a golden
vessel, a libation of something very expensive in the alcohol line, say,
Paradis XO, over his head- minus his Panama, naturally. Actually, maybe
they should keep that in the bottle and should anoint him with something
less valuable. Perhaps a laurel wreath. Bay would do.
He became lost in this soft focus reverie. Then he had to rush back to mark
some wretched scripts. He left Nigel to assist with the harp, but noticed
Geoffrey Poskett getting in on the act, much to the tenor’s annoyance.
So, it was disappointing that, the very next day, Snod should have to be
confronting the troublesome John Boothroyd-Smythe, whose family was
experiencing difficulties, as everyone knew. Still, there was no excuse. The
bratwurst had behaved reasonably well in the rehearsal the previous evening,
but had disgraced himself in the refectory at lunch, by commenting audibly, as
he expectorated a lump of gristle, that the school faggots– those culinary
delicacies which the dinner ladies had been serving up for aeons- were
probably horse, or the products of the same butcher that Nicolas, Singing
Bishop of Myra/ Lyra?, had condemned for sausagifying– was that a gerund?-
the three pickled boys, Timothy, Mark and John.
Gus refrained from issuing him with the ultimate punishment: suspension from
school, not physically, though there was a very useful flagpole should the need
arise, but he did require the irritating one to write out The Old Hundredth in
musical notation three times, for the following Friday.
The Senior Master was particularly annoyed as he had been on lunchtime yard
duty and there hadn’t been any faggots left by the time he got to sit down and
invite indigestion. Only the vegetarian options had remained, sadly. He was so
hungry that he almost felt like eating a boy himself, saintly prohibition, or not!