allotment, Bourbon biscuit, child benefit, Cincinnatus, dibbling, harrowing, in loco parentis, internecine, open question, Pastoral Care, ploughing, Polar vortex, Protestant reformation, seamed stockings, smallholding, spyware, toga, Type 2 diabetes, William Morris Willow Bough Minor, work ethic, yoke of oxen
Gisela Boothroyd-Smythe and her newly ex-husband, Maxwell,
sat at opposite ends of the William Morris Willow Bough Minor
upholstered sofa in Acting Head, Augustus Snodbury’s study.
He had called both warring factions into school for a review of
their delinquent son’s Autumn term. The emotional temperature
in the room reflected the physical Polar Vortex being experienced
Snod opened the large file on his desk. Gisela rubbed her heel on
the rug, exacerbating the hole which had been initiated many
parental meetings before. She twisted the wedding ring which she
now wore on her right hand.
Maxwell sat with his legs splayed, trying to make himself appear
Attendance…hmm..almost perfect. Maths and Science very good.
Arts subjects: ‘a facility with words’, as his form teacher, Mr
Milford-Haven has so succinctly put it in his summative report.
Everything seems to boil down to John’s problematic attitude to
authority and his lack of empathy towards his peers.
He is a bit of an individual, Maxwell broke in and his ex-wife scowled
I understand that both children are now boarding, Snod re-directed.
He felt that this was one of those open questions, couched in a
declarative which might open up discussion. He was surprised to
hear himself employing the technique.
Ye Gods Above! I must have been inadvertently listening at the last
Training Session, he silently marvelled.
Gisela cleared her throat. Em, yes. Juniper feels that she has more
freedom at school.
That’s because you set up spyware to find out what she was up to,
Maybe, but you didn’t have to inform the Child Benefit people that she
was not with me sufficiently to merit a payment, recriminated Gisela.
Now, let’s stick to the point, Snod intervened. He had almost added
‘children’. Both offspring seem to have become more calm with the
schools being ‘in loco parentis’.
Gisela and Maxwell forgot their differences to exchange an
uncomprehending glance. Neither had studied Latin.
I think, concluded Snod, that participation in the school concert
definitely improved his co-operative skills. Life is all about teamwork
(What a load of old jargon, he admonished himself.)
Of course, individuation can be a positive. After all, it led to The
Protestant Reformation. It’s all a matter of cultivating the work
Personally I hate teams, he admitted to himself. Unless, of course,
they are of the cricketing or choral varieties. In every other realm I
prefer to calculate my own decisions and work out how to achieve my
He recalled the image of one of his personal heroes. There had been a
pen and ink drawing of Cincinnatus wearing a shorty toga and perhaps a
laurel wreath, depicted in Gus’ own boyish Latin textbook.
There he was, the great dictator, minding his own business, in an agrarian
backwater, furrowing a field in retirement, when he was called upon to
leave the plough and to govern through the crisis of an invasion of three
Imagine how pointless it would have been if Cincinnatus’ governance skills,
finely honed through harrowing, had been hampered by him having to drag a
yoke of useless dead oxen after him! Snod opined to himself. No, sometimes,
it is better to just get on and do things yourself. Certainly in this line of
business it’s the case.
He quickly re-grouped his thought processes, releasing his
Well, I won’t detain you, knowing that you are both Very Busy People.
Flattery could get you everywhere.
And he stood up, remaining behind the desk, because he had seen
his GP do the very same when he wanted to terminate a consultation.
Snod then shook their hands. Gisela had to stretch over the ring binder,
as her arms were shorter. She didn’t shake hands with her ex-husband
and barely inclined her head to him.
The School Secretary showed them out and Snod reflected that he had
been advocating attributes which he had never developed himself. Did this
make him a hypocrite?
Hmm, she’s wearing high heels today, he observed. You know, I could
have sworn that she had seamed stockings..
He was fixated on the hosiery of his PA.
The door opened once more and the question was resolved.
I’ve brought you your tea and some biscuits, she announced.
You probably need a sugar fix after seeing those two.
On the contrary, I feel remarkably refreshed, he commented, glancing
down at her heels as she left the room.
Mmm-two sugars and two Bourbon biscuits. Diana restricted his biscuit
portion to one. She was always banging on about Type Two Diabetes.
She ought to leave a man alone, he cringed.
Mr Snodbury, sir!
He jumped out of his reverie and spilled his tea into the saucer.
It was Milford-Haven. Snod hoped this wouldn’t be a lengthy session.
He bit into one of the Bourbons to mark his territory.
Yes, all this power was heady stuff, but he, like his Classical hero, would
return to civilian oblivion once his task was over. Maybe he would try to get
an allotment? His pension might not run to a Roman smallholding.
He wondered if the secretary liked horticulture. He wouldn’t mind
watching her bend over as she did some dibbling.
Are you all right, sir? I mean, is that all right?
Yes, Caligula- I mean, Milford-Haven, do as you think best. Show some
And Nigel stood up, grabbed the other biscuit and said, Cheers!
Snod supposed that was what was called being an individual.