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Tête de Bonnard (Portrait photograph of Pierre Bonnard), c.1899, Musée d'Orsay.jpg

(Tete de Bonnard)


Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle School peered

into his fogged up shaving mirror in the manner of Bonnard, but sans

le Maitre’s obsession with la salle de bain.  Was it just the bain– or the

occupant thereof?

He drew his razor across his chin.

Merde!   Marthe.  Strange coincidence that the two words are so similar. 

Bien sur, Marthe is a proper noun and merde is …well. merde is…  Cela ne

fait rien…

(He only swore in foreign languages- usually of the moribund  variety.

Mehercule! was another well-favoured expletive…)

It was Sod’s Law that he should nick himself just before Parents’ Evening.

Au contraire- it was, en effet, Snod’s Law- absolument typique.

There seemed to be some underlying thermodynamic law which ensured

that every literal slice of toast that he would ever drop in his allotted

threescore years and – hopefully plus- would land sunny side down on the

fluffy lino of his kitchenette.

Once he had tried to fathom out the underlying principle, but he had grown

exasperated by the philosophical discussions re/ context sensitivity and

causality.  He usually just scraped the spread off and hoped for the best.

If the odious mater of the dreaded Boothroyd-Smythe boy should smell

blood, she would, no doubt, be after his teacher like a pack leader at a

drag hunt. She would want to ‘discuss’ her infant sauvage/ sauvant’s

penultimate ink exercise-at length.

Each parent/ guardian had been given a four minute and forty nine

seconds’ window of opportunity.  There were others to be seen-and heard-

so Snod had planned his personal defenestration technique, which

involved a pre-set travelling alarm clock.  The previous time he had tried

to utilise the device, it had been confiscated by the school caretaker, who

said it might be mistaken for an incendiary device.

 I mean-mehercule!- Snod had remonstrated- do I look like a terrorist, man?

The caretaker had not ventured an opinion, other than to reinforce that

it was against ‘Elf and Safety.

Snod wiped the condensation away with his pyjama sleeve and applied

pressure to the little bleeder (not the caretaker, you understand.  We are

back in the privacy of the lavatory.) However, the flow was not to be

easily stemmed.  Neither would Mrs B-S ( ‘Irritable Bowel- Syndrome’ was

how he thought of her)…neither would the aforesaid indignant parent

tolerate any hypothetical exploration of her son’s behaviour.  She also

was difficult to staunch.  Snod wondered if her ex-husband had found

the same difficulty in dealing with her when she was in full spout.

Counter factuals interested her as little as the laws of thermodynamics,

or grammar, for that matter, he considered.

Well, we are living in an age where no one cares about the subjunctive, he

mused, so why would anyone contemplate the ‘what ifs’, or the hypothetical


Who do you think you are, Mr Snodbury? she had written in a note delivered

to his poste restante, ergo his pigeonhole in the staff-room.  How could you

give my gifted son such a discouraging assessment when he has an IQ of

160, which is, no doubt, sixty points above most of the masters’ scores in this


He could predict that she would bang on about some theory of Copernican

mediocrity, ad tedium.

But the initial interrogative got beneath his skin, just as his rasoir had.

After some meditation, he considered that her opening gambit was not

so much a rhetorical question, but rather, a declaration of war.

He stuck a shred of toilet paper over the wound.  But maybe she had a


Who am I? he asked himself, while recognising the reflexive modal aspect

of the verb. ( I don’t mean the verb ‘to be‘; I refer to his self-examination.)

He had never felt the need of a gap year, to go off and find himself, but a

sabbatical would have been nice.

That genealogy programme was popular, he knew: the one where

celebrities discovered that their direct lines went all the way back to

William the Conqueror.

Whose didn’t? he thought.  We are all five handshakes from…whom?  Am I

really descended from Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun, as the boys suspect?

Well, so long as I am not related to Boris Johnson, in spite of our shared

love of the Classics!

He had always felt that he was the terminal bud on a twig which had been

grafted onto someone else’s native tree.

Maybe he should exhibit some natural curiosity and find out the truth of

his generation- etymologically-speaking.

Whatever truth is, as Pilate once so eloquently said, he mused aloud.

It seems to have stopped haemorrhaging now.  I can’t be haemophiliac, so

my blood-line can’t be true blue.