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The school chaplain was banging on about Lent in Assembly.

What are YOU prepared to give up for Lent? he had asked the


Augustus Snodbury looked at his school calendar surreptitiously.

Last Sunday had been Sexagesima.  Well, there was no issue in

abstemiousness in that line, as he had not had relations with a

woman for thirty years or so.

Maybe he could cut down his Bourbon biscuit intake.  Yes, he would

tell the School Secretary to bring a single biscuit at elevenses for the

next forty odd days.  That was a 50% reduction.  Time off for good

behaviour in Purgatory?  No, that was the opposition’s belief, surely?

His mind wandered to his ‘to do’ list.  It was more than a week since

he had received the Wyvern signet ring from his step-brother in

Venezuela.  He ought to reply and thank him.

After the boys had filed out, he sat at his desk and began to draft a


St Birinus Middle School,

Suttonford etc

27th Feb., 2014.

My Dear Hugo,

I am writing to confirm receipt of the signet ring on our mother’s instructions.

I realise that finding the cost of its postage must have been challenging for

you at this time of rampant inflation in your country.

I enclose a photograph of your niece, Drusilla, and myself, standing outside

Wyvern Mote.  The lady in the wheelchair is your Aunt Augusta- Berenice’s


Augusta oversaw my education when our mother- he was going to write

scarpered‘, but Tippex-ed it out and replaced it with ‘left for warmer climes.’

The news did not come as too severe a blow to Augusta, as she had

believed her sister had been disappeared years previously.  We did not go

into too many details anyway, as the old dear is now in her dotage.

Wyvern yielded some of its secrets on our visit.  Drusilla spotted a photograph

of the tutor in an old schoolroom and his facial features betray my origin.  Not

yours, of course, dear boy.  Perhaps you have inherited Berenice’s genes in

the appearance department.  In that case, you may resemble Aunt Augusta,

who is said to be her ‘dead spit‘, as some would crudely put it.  Judge for


Perhaps you would find it in your power to send us a photo of yourself-

possibly in revolutionary garb, manning barricades or indulging in some

such activity.  That is, unless your post is censored.

Saint Birinus.jpg

Dear old St Birinus must have been watching over us, as my mother

remembering the name of the school led to our successful contact.  An odd

thought came to me in Assembly.  Apparently Birinus could also be spelled

Bernius’.  Was our mother given the saint’s nomenclature by a dyslexic

registrar?  What connection did her parents have to the school, or to the

saint?  Our grandmother was Augusta too, if I recall correctly and our

grandfather was a rug merchant, and probably a rogue trader too, by all

accounts, from somewhere in the Bosphorous.  I saw a photo of him once

and he bore a striking resemblance to David Dickinson, that antiques


David Dickinson crop.jpg

I would love to come and visit you, dear brother, but GovUK advises against

it at present. The site informs me that you have been experiencing heavy rain

and road conditions are poor.  We have a similar situation in Surrey,

Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset.

No doubt your passport has been suspended.  We are concerned

when we read of famous beauty queens and boxing champions being


Our peripatetic marimba teacher commented that El Sistema, the universally

famous Music Education programme should speak out about your political

situation.  He is disappointed that Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the

Los Angeles Philharmonic, has not taken a stand.  But he cannot embed

secret messages in his music, as Shostakovich did, as he is only a conductor

and not a composer, as I tried to point out.

Thank you also for the inadvertent gift of a poodle moth which somehow got

into the packaging of your communication.  The Biology teacher was thrilled.

He posed me a riddle: What is fuzzy, adorable and terrifying all at the same


(He had read this sub-title in one of our staffroom magazines: The Week, as it

happens. Not a publication with which you may be familiar, but no matter…)

I don’t like riddles in general, but I immediately replied, John Boothroyd-


He is a bete-noire of mine.  The correct response should have been Poodle

Moth, naturally.

Take care, little brother.  One day we shall meet and discuss the missing


May St Birinus protect you.

(He scribbled ‘Gus‘) and then signed off with a flourish:

Augustus Snodbury (Acting Head)

Then he crossed out the parenthesis and sealed the personal letter in

a school envelope. The School Secretary could work out the international

postage and use the office franking machine.  There was no fraud involved.

He was, after all, saving the school catering budget a fortune on biscuits for

the foreseeable future.  Or so he rationalised.