There’s always something! grouched Augustus Snodbury, as his trouser
button ricocheted across the study. He had just finished lunch and knew
that his reflux would be problematic after a rather large portion of Spotted
Dick and custard, or ‘cow’s turd’ as the boys always called it.
Usually he would just have thrown the trousers away. How a grown man
with a respectable degree could claim to be unable to sew on a button had
been beyond Diana, his erstwhile lover.
Now he was skulking in his personal loo while his PA, Virginia Fisher-Giles,
took out her emergency repair kit to achieve closure. She had already
repulsed several anxious members of staff, who had thought there was a
window of opportunity for them to bend the Acting Head’s proverbial before
afternoon lessons commenced. She referred them to a important meeting
that would be taking place with the new Head and used all the duplicitous
skills and terminal inexactitudes that she had practised over the years.
The coast is clear! she hissed and draped the mended garment over the
back of his desk chair. However, just at that moment, an enthusiastic Nigel
Milford-Haven, having checked the timing on the appointments sheet Sello-
taped to the study door, barged in with a proposition. He had knocked on
the PA’s door, but she hadn’t answered.
Nigel was treated to a vision of Mr Snodbury, in his Gieves and Hawkes boxer
shorts, trying to insert a pale and rather hairy limb into a trouser leg, looking
for all the world like a heron. Gus almost lost his balance, along with his temper.
Nigel was also observant enough to note a slim ankle encased in a seamed
stocking as it disappeared round the door, into the adjoining office.
Sorry! the Junior master stammered and scarpered.
He had been going to invite Snod to a House barbecue which was supposed to
show staff gratitude for the old boy’s having stood in the gap, taken the helm,
or having put his thumb in the dyke. Nigel’s fatal mistake had been
improvisation; Snod’s had been that he hadn’t pulled out a plum.
It had suddenly occurred to Nigel that he could include the New Head, creating
an opportunity to kill two birds with one invitation, as it were. It would be an
informal chance for everyone to get to know each other.
Nigel should have realised that initiative was one of the features that was
definitely contraindicated at any level in a school. It might have been one of
the reasons that his application had been rejected. Loose cannons not
appreciated, he could hear the panel agree, but still he did not learn: a
worrying trait in any teacher.
Now a bucketful of tact and mature reflection was needed to help him deal
with the overwhelming moral confusion which threatened to de-stabilise his
afternoon lessons and, indeed, the rest of his life.
Mr Snodbury had toppled from his pedestal and, like Humpty Dumpty, had had a
great fall. At least in Nigel’s estimation. He might never be re-constructed and
so Nigel tiptoed down the corridor, as if walking on eggshells, his world
Shell-shocked, he gazed at a framed 1978 whole school photo, with a relatively
youthful and considerably lighter Mr Snodbury sitting on the front row, legs
splayed. How have the Mighty fallen! Nigel said to himself. Or is it ‘has’?
Suddenly he felt a hand being slapped on his shoulder and he turned round,
jolted him from his reverie.
So, you’re the favourite to win the end of term Teacher Talent Competition, I
Crivvens! as the comic book characters of Nigel’s youth used to exclaim. It
was the new Head, who had arrived slightly early for the meeting.
Take me to your leader! he quipped, revealing his future management style.
Yes, sir! Nigel buckled, feeling like one of the pupils. He hadn’t the heart to
challenge He Who Must Henceforth Be Obeyed for his lack of a visible Visitor’s
Pass. The owner of the voice didn’t look very like the public perception of a
mass murderer. And surely anyone intent on entry would just shoot out
the locks and would laugh to scorn any man of woman born? Wearing a
plastic card on a string for defence purposes was a bit like hoping Birnam
Wood would never come to Dunsinane, or that a condom was foolproof.
But it had been agreed at the last Friday meeting that one could never be
too careful and any member of staff could, and should, ask for ID. He
thought about calling in at the office to collect a laminated ‘approved
stranger‘ pass, but then thought better of it.
If there was any sign of danger Nigel would sacrifice himself to save his
students- at least most of them. But maybe not John Boothroyd-Smythe.
No, maybe not him. He had that look of having been untimely ripped from
his mother’s womb.
He was just the sort of child who would be behind a moving grove.
Lay on, Macduff! the newly-appointed quasi-jovial Head encouraged. And
so, Nigel re-traced his steps up the corridor and knocked on Virginia’s door,
which was very ostensibly ajar.