Bourbon biscuit, Caracas, cri de coeur, Cumbernauld, De Sousa, Elastoplast, Gregory's Girl, Ipostel, lime tea, madeleine, Philately, seamed stockings, Telegraph, wyvern
Virginia Fisher-Giles, The School Secretary and PA to Acting Head,
Augustus Snodbury, was reluctant to sign for the rather shabby parcel.
It was postmarked ‘Caracas‘ and she didn’t recognise the name on the
sender label: Hugo De Sousa. There was an Ipostel label still hanging onto
it. Clearly addressed to Mr Augustus Snodbury, St Birinus School, Suttonford
etc., she decided that she had better take it in and check the list of new
The postman said that he had rattled it and smelt it and it seemed all right.
Nevertheless, Virginia had read, only the previous week, about a nineteen year
old diplomat’s son in South London, who had innocently and altruistically signed
for a neighbour’s parcel, and who had ended up being arrested and his parents’
home and garden being turned over for several days by police in bio-hazard
suits, before being issued an apology.
The Head, who was on sick leave, never received odd mail such as this. She
wondered what on earth Snodbury was up to. Unless, of course, it was some
kind of jape organised by that pest, John Boothroyd-Smythe. He had once
offered her a nut from his cylindrical tin and when she removed the lid, a cloth
snake on a spring had leapt out at her and had given her the shock of her life.
As for ‘Caracas’..wasn’t that the ultimate destination those two teenage idiots
had misspelled on their placard, when they were trying to hitch a
lift from rainy Cumbernauld, or wherever, to an exotic land of allegedly
compliant girls, in the opening sequence of that coming-of-age classic
Scottish film, Gregory’s Girl?
Virginia simply had to know everything that was going on in St Birinus. After
all, she was the PA and this whole episode was too, too intriguing.
Gus had a free period and was opening his Telegraph, ready to dunk
his Bourbon biscuit into his tea, when he noticed the package in his in-tray.
His first emotion was pleasurable, as he realised that the stamps would be
educational for his lunchtime Philately Club. But this was followed by
puzzlement. He didn’t know anyone of the surname on the label, except for a
composer of brass music, which was not really in line with his preferences.
He held the box up to his rather hairy ear. No, there was no ticking. Gingerly,
he tore off a corner of the brown paper and shook the parcel over his tray.
No white powder came out.
He decided to live dangerously and ripped it open, in the way one deals
with an Elastoplast that simply has to come off.
A small box fell out onto his desk. He opened it. It contained a gold
signet ring with a strange crest.
Snod might as well have dipped a Madeleine into some lime tea, rather than
a Bourbon into his builders’ variety, for, all at once, the years rolled away
and he could remember things past. The mythical winged creature depicted
a dragony-type beast with a barbed tail.
A wyvern! he exclaimed. And he could see the hand that had worn the ring
in his infant memory. A stab of emotion that he thought he had suppressed
for over fifty years clutched at his entrails.
There was an accompanying letter. As he read its contents, his tea turned
cold and he forgot to eat the second Bourbon. This, in itself, would have
enlightened any observer as to the significance of the impact he had
However, there was no voyeur, except for Virginia, who, unable to contain
her curiosity, barged into the study, without the usual courtesy of a knock,
and interrupted with:
I say, Mr Snodbury, you haven’t drunk your tea! Did you get your parcel?
Was it anything of interest?
But Gus was sitting expressionless and scarcely seemed to hear her.
Virginia, brought up short, revised her behaviour and, apologising, merely
took the cup away, along with the first uneaten biscuit that she had ever
had to retrieve and prepare for disposal.
How very strange! And, like Mary, she pondered all these things in her heart,
as she bent down and followed the trail of rubber bands from the school foyer
to the spot where the mail van parked every day.
Really! She was tired of picking up the detritus scattered by that buffoon
whose ridiculous semi-uniform of baseball cap and unseasonable shorts
was a disgrace to civilised society. As for that trolley thing that he pushed,
it was completely wimpish. How she longed for a real man that she could
respect. But what was the chance of her meeting one in this limited scenario?
The seamed stockings that she wore were a cri-de-coeur. If the true princess
could spot a pea, then, surely, a real prince would notice her stockings! And,
oh, how she longed that one day he would come!