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Augustus Snodbury, Acting Head of St Birinus’ Middle School, was on

his way to a Leadership Course for Heads, which sought to promote

excellence in Independent Education.  Virginia, his PA, thankfully was


He yawned.  He was going to have to endure lengthy sessions on

curriculum frameworks, public exams, charitable status, oversea

recruitment, admissions and pointers on how to inform parental

decisions.  Scarily, he had just thought that one informed the fee-payers

and then sat back to wait for the fireworks.

You didn’t even get a nice pub lunch any more.  A ‘working lunch

was provided, with curly edged sandwiches and carafes of lukewarm

tap water.  Appetising, not.  He needed something stronger in the

beverage line to face the ordeal.

Why, oh why could he not simply disappear into a chintzy wing armchair

in the staffroom until his lump sum came through?

As for this Blackberry thing, he could never get the hang of it.  His digits were

too podgy to hit the keys precisely.  What he needed was one of those Cloak

apps that would screen his doings from all and sundry.  Failing that, the Ring

of Gyges would come in handy.

Soon the absent Head would have to make a decision as to whether he

would be returning to duties, or not.

If the Head decided to take early retirement on the grounds of health, that

would mean that Snod’s present temporary position would have to be


They’d probably get some idiot like Poskett applying- a man who couldn’t make

his beat clear to a bunch of trebles, let alone stage manage St Birinus with its

daily issues that would have challenged Machiavelli, or a whole family of


For the honour of the establishment, Snod might have to engage in a duel

with the likes of the inefficient choirmaster.  He could envisage swords drawn

before dawn, with Milford-Haven as his ‘second.’  He nostalgically returned to

his days in the school fencing club.

As a boy, his nickname had been D’Artagnan.  Now he wondered if it should be

amended to Athos.  Nothing to do with Mount Athos, though he did live a rather

monkish life.  No, it was the name of the musketeer who was apparently immune

to romance.  Certainly, he shared some characteristics with him, to wit: only

allowing minions to speak in emergencies.

But there was always a danger in over-extending analogies, especially with the

literally-minded.  It was a fault whose influence could be readily demonstrated

in some exam responses.

No, Poskett should stick to his Stainer Crucifixions and other safe options.

Virginia was now on a clear stretch of dual carriageway, so she tried to initiate


How was your Easter break?  Did you manage to have some time off?

Um- yes, we-eh-I mean, Drusilla and I went down to Kent for a couple of


He did not mention his father’s death.

Oh, such a nice part of the world, enthused Virginia.  I love Sissinghurst.  You

know, The White Garden?  Do you like gardening?

Snod thought about this for a minute or two:  I wouldn’t mind pottering

around an allotment, if I had the time.  It would be even better if it had a


Ha!  Men and their sheds! she laughed.

Snod didn’t really know what she meant, but felt duty-bound to reciprocate

the interest shown.

What did you do, eh, Virginia?  He concentrated very hard on awaiting her

reply, to distract himself from a sheer black nylon knee which was

progressively being shown to advantage as her skirt rode up when she

depressed the clutch.

Oh, I just went to see my sister and the kids.

He hated the colloquialism.  ‘Children‘- he much preferred that collective noun

with its connotations of obedience, innocence and wonder.  He liked those who

were fast bowlers, good at declining Latin verbs and who comprehended

inflections and he was slightly fond of those who respected the model railway

layout and who didn’t knock the carriages off the track.  The rest could..  Mind

you, Dru had been a child once and he had missed out on her childhood.

Whose fault had that been?  Actually, the carpet fitter’s, in all probability.

If only his Valentine card and proposal had not gone between the carpet

and the underlay all those years ago.

But, those old embers had burnt out.  He and Diana were good friends now,

but that was it.  He hadn’t been stirred by a woman until… .That knee- very


So, I take it you didn’t go to Sissinghurst then?

Ah, yes.  I mean no.  Not this time.  We are going to take our aunt there next

time we visit her at her nursing home.

Oh, bless. How old is she?

About a hundred.

Wow!  She’ll get a telegram from the Queen.  You’ll probably have the

longevity genes too.

Not necessarily, Snod replied.  You see, she’s not really our aunt.  It’s a

long story.

Oh, do tell. I love stories.  Especially ones about skeletons in people’s family

cupboards.  We’ve all got them.

Really? said Snod, encouraged that he wasn’t the only one.

Virginia slowed down so that she could concentrate and laughed:

Do take them out and let them have a danse macabre.  And then she

patted his knee.  I’m all ears.

No, you’re all woman, he thought.  Well, recently there’s been a lot

happening, especially since Drusilla came out of the woodwork, so to speak..

And though Snod was to learn about leadership, he could certainly have

taken a leaf out of Virginia’s book of management skills.  He was putty in

her hands. And that was even with both of her hands being firmly on his

driving wheel.

He spilled the beans..