you have gone from the lycee
Okay. I know. I know. I abandoned Augustus Snodbury, erstwhile
Senior Master of St Birinus’ Middle School. He was at the altar alongside
Virginia Fisher- Gyles and both were sharing a service with Murgatroyd-
Syylk and Diana ( renewal of wedding vows for the latter) and vestal
virgins, Nigel Milford- Haven and the chaste- but not very chased, it must
be admitted – Drusilla (Gus and Diana’s daughter and Murgatroyd’s
adopted daughter.) All very complicated, n’est-ce-pas?
However, that is the modern family for you.
Gus, having been a Classics teacher at one time, could have expanded on
that subject ad nauseam – and frequently did so. He loved to read and
re-read Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars. He and ‘Sweaty Tony’
could have told you that there was nothing new under the sun.
Gus felt equally qualified to write a book called The Playground, as
the Classical author had done. Now that retirement had been achieved,
he intended to have a go.
It was one way to have an alibi for sitting in the study alone for long
periods of time, playing Battleship online.
Virginia said that she could bring out a monograph on The Physical Defects
of Men. A very big monograph.
Mehercule! Did that mean that she wanted to share the study?
Married life had brought him face-to-face with the central question of
Suetonius’ works: how does one cope with absolute power? Gus now felt
sure that he was coming to a good understanding of the answer and it
was something along the lines of promptly saying : Yes, dear, to any
assertion, request or remark.
Once Gus had had two very prestigious jobs- Senior Master and (Acting)
Deputy Head. Neither had involved much work. They were posts
comparable to Suetonius’ positions as flamen sacerdotalis and pontifex
Now our newlywed had a very stressful post as Husband. If he wasn’t
careful, he might develop a nervous stammer, like Claudius. Derek
Jacobi- now wasn’t he marvellous…? So, indeed, was that actor who
played Wilfred Owen in Regeneration. Owen had a stammer. Wasn’t
that evidence of Post Traumatic Stress? Virginia wouldn’t develop one,
that was for sure. And she didn’t even have the mitigation of PMT – not
at her time of life… Maybe she had Post Menopausal Something- Else?
But she was not the one who was feeling the pressure… What was her
excuse? He felt like asking her to reflect on her mis-demeanors in some
kind of detention. She could write an essay, perhaps…
Gus! Could you take the bin out?
I could, he thought rebelliously. But will I? Ha! I could say
that I don’t want to be pedantic, but, in fact, I very much do.
Gus! Did you hear me?
Ita vero. On my way. Yes, dear!
Dumb insolence got him n…n.. n… nowhere.
At least he didn’t have to write the Christmas card this year. Wives
seemed to take on that mantle. Virginia had bought about six packs of
In the past, he had only sent one – to ‘Aunt Augusta’ (God Rest her Soul.)
His Christmas shopping had been confined to a bottle of Dewlap Gin for the
Discerning Grandmother. It hadn’t been boutique, but had always been
acceptable to the old bird. He wondered if he should buy a bottle for old
times’ sake. The stresses of connubial bliss were driving him in that
A re-blog, to amuse and cheer…
It was the end of a long day of nine lessons (and no carols) on the trot
and Nigel Milford-Haven, Junior Master at St Birinus Middle School
was attempting to unwind by flicking through last month’s How To
Spend It FT supplement, which only served to underscore his deep-seated
financial insecurities and general lack of self-esteem.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to drive into the staff car park in a
Lamborghini Murcielago and spray some gravel onto John
Boothroyde-Smythe and Co., accidentally on purpose?
Maybe he should get a tattoo like David Beckham, only with
correct spelling, of course.
He adjusted his frayed M&S tie and wondered why he couldn’t strike
a sartorial pose like the youthful- looking millionaire ‘Tiger Tutor’
of Hong Kong’s Beacon College.
There were just as many tiger mothers in Suttonford and environs, he
mused, as in Hong Kong. They were just as ambitious for their-what
Robert Shrimsley of the FT termed ‘spawn’- as their oriental
Actually, ‘spawn‘ sounded similar to the contents of dim sum. He felt
he was well acquainted with the term in human form, as he had to deal
with those wretched twins, often in detention.
Castor or Pollux, translate the following: Dim sum.
I am stupid, sir?
No, judging by the parental modes of transport, there was no
shortage of dollars, banked in Hong Kong, or otherwise.
Why couldn’t Snodbury and himself set up a tutorial agency and gain
significantly higher rewards from legions of costcentres? Surely the
gratuities would be greater than a fusty and corked bottle of Taylors
Port that had been round the carousel of many a local raffle? That was
the type of recognition of services rendered that they were wont to
receive at the end of the Autumn term. He didn’t even drink and had to
pass it on to his mother for her Christmas drinks cabinet.
He opened the top drawer of his filing cabinet which had to be
stationed in the staff room as there was no space in his classroom,
now that several rest stations for the junior fatigued had been installed.
He fished out the Terms of Employment that he had foolishly signed.
Drat! He was not permitted to coach any of the pupils that he had
been contracted to intravenously feed at St Birinus. He would have to
solicit external students and that would entail hiring premises, paying
insurance and installing photocopiers etc. He would even need to apply
for a separate child protection thingy.
If he avoided rental on premises, he would have to visit the needy in
their own homes and then he would have to drive through their
ornamental gates with CCTV, thus recording his arrival in a shabby
Morris Traveller whose wing mirror was fixed to the rusting bodywork
with duct tape.
The sniggering student watching his progress up the lime avenue would
have lost any respect for him before he had even crossed the drawbridge.
They’d be texting snaps of his vehicle with captions such as WTF and
LOL. Even Nigel knew these acronyms did not stand for, Well, that’s
fabulous! or Lots of Love!
As for Snodbury, The Senior Master did not believe in extra tuition, come
to think of it.
Other masters may invite indigestion by bolting their lunch so as to
make a silk purse out of some kid’s ear- a kid who had probably pranked
around and not paid attention when the lesson had been originally
delivered. Snod had been heard to mutter:
Should have listened the first time. That’ll teach ’em. Anyway, the mocks are
only an organised shipwreck to see who can swim. He would then eye the
clock and make himself as scarce as hens’ teeth before the 1 o’clock
This was especially true on a Wednesday when there was a limited
amount of roast pork on offer in the refectory. If one arrived in a
tardy fashion, there would be no apple sauce remaining and the little
buggers would have scoffed all the crackling.
Nigel looked at the clock: Four thirty. Good! The parents should
have cleared the drive by now and so he should avoid the traffic
He gingerly opened the staffroom door and peeked outside to see if
the coast was clear.
But to his chagrin and extreme annoyance, the aforementioned
Boothroyde- Smythe was hovering, with a Maths ink exercise book
in his grubby paws.
Sir! he whined. I didn’t understand…
Nigel wearily beckoned him towards his classroom. He wasn’t
even paid overtime!
What exactly didn’t you understand? he asked in a scarcely disguised
attempt to sound concerned.
Oh, just something that Mr Snodbury said about some educational
establishments being loser-making factories that produce the likes of
Oh yes, add the vocative ‘sir’ to any kind of impertinence and it sanctifies
bare-faced cheek, Nigel thought. However, he judiciously replied:
I expect that he was being sardonic. Do you know that word? I suggest
that you run along and add it to your extensive prep for this evening.
But, sir, the precocious one responded, I did all my prep last night
with my tutor.
In that case, take this declension sheet as an extension. We don’t want
your parents to think that you are being underwhelmed, do we?
Two could play at that game. And the exercise was in multiple
choice format, so the marking would be easy-peasy.
In some ways, this type of interaction was strangely satisfying in
a way that money couldn’t buy. Maybe that was why, in recognition,
his pupils called him Caligula.
Who needs to be a tiger tutor when you can be a leopard that
doesn’t need to change its spots?
When I was a student we had to read The Grammarian’s Funeral
by Robert Browning.
Today I have just returned from singing at a wedding and I thought
I’d re-blog this oldie, also on a grammatical note:
Marriage was revered as a conjunction;
two main clauses fused by a word like and.
God-joined pairs could not, without compunction,
split an infinity forged by a band.
A compound subject was most’s intention,
instead of being the mere complement
of a life sentence (with much declension).
No male nor female, said the Testament:
the adjunct was as Christ loved the Church, so
husbands ought to love their wives as their own
bodies… but that was centuries ago:
things don’t change through imperatives alone.
Most wives still suffer subordination:
bound morphemes. Eve’s sin tax?- affixation.
assessment objectives, Blue Badge Guide, Camelot, Clueless, Colin Firth, Dr Johnson, Elinor Dashwood, feretory, Harriet Smith, Jane Austen, Keats, Lady Bertram, Mary Tudor, Occam's razor, Ockham's Razor, Ode to Autumn, ossuaries, Philip of Spain, St Cross, Winchester Cathedral, Wykeham Arms
Today an insolent hussy stood on my stone and shrieked to her companion:
Wow! Get a load of this! We are standing on that woman whose book we had to read for GCSE. Except that our teacher just let us watch the DVD. We had to compare it with “Clueless”, to show evidence of certain assessment objectives, but I got mixed up and was marked down. It was the teacher’s fault. She shouldn’t have confused me. My mum appealed, though, and I re-wrote that bit where Mr Thingy exits the lake in a wet t-shirt. Mum said it was really cool. Later she came here to give thanks for my success and slipped in a couple of prayer requests to The God of Camelot and a personal one that she might meet Colin Firth, with or without his wet clothing.
All of this was expressed in spite of a metal contraption which was attached to her teeth, so that I was as showered with saliva drops and my stone wetted, as if the Bishop had sprayed me with the rosemary twigs he uses at baptisms. It isn’t always the best spot here, near the font.
But, at least we haven’t sunk to those adult total immersions yet.
Then the young woman proceeded to light a candle for me, muttering about there being no vanilla or blueberry-scented ones available.
Before I could utter the immortal phrase: It is a truth universally.. she was off, determined to see the feretory, as she loved those furry little creatures- or were they meerkats? Simples is not the word.
Sometimes I raise my eyes to the metal hooks on the vasty pillars whose original function was to display the nuptial banners of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain. Since I cannot suspend myself thereby, I resort to turning over in my grave. Someone should remind these youngsters of the motto of their local college: Manners Makyth Man. (And that is a generic, inclusive term.)
I try not to mind when tourists seem more interested in where Keats precisely commenced his walk to St Cross, before composing Ode to Autumn.
I could easily interrupt the Blue Badge Guide and inform them that he first procured nuncheon and a pint of porter at The Wykeham Arms. However, like my creation, Elinor Dashwood, I feel like commenting on his Romantic versification:
It is not everyone who shares your passion for dead leaves!
But, maybe this is somewhat scathing, even for me.
I still feel that a sermon well delivered is as rare as hens’ teeth. The Evangelical varieties seem livelier, though hardly calculated to earn their exponents a succession to a stall in Westminster.
Some of the homilies could do with a firm shave by the venerable Occam’s razor, since they can be as mangled as the regal bones in the choir ossuaries and as dusty as the said receptacles themselves. They might do well to remember the less intellectually endowed Harriet Smiths of this world, who do not always decipher obscure riddles and charades. As Fielding said, however:
Clergy are men as well as other folks.
Personally, I have been able to touch and affect a heterogeneous audience and consequently often have more than half a mind to rise and preach myself, though I heed Dr Johnson’s astute aphorisms regarding the fairer sex and sermonising:
A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well: but you are surprised to find it done at all.
I know that I can be eloquent on points in which my own conduct would have borne ill examination. However, greater opportunity for inward reflection has led me to direct more of my sense of irony towards my own failings. As the good doctor also said:
As I know more of mankind, I expect less and less of them and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.
However, I who have gently mocked the aspirations of others have been glad to be sheltered in the bosom of this place, as comfortably as Lady Bertram’s pug upon her chaise, but- prenez soin! I am sometimes yet inclined to bare my needle sharp teeth and to sink them into some unsuspecting ankles- metaphorically, of course!
Absent Freinds, aperro, bachaqueros, Bolivar, Chipping Sodbury, Corbyn, Deist, Embers, Farrow and Ball, Ford Pinto, gloaming, Indian Summer, Malapropism, Pele Tower, River Camel, Sandor Marai, Snodland, The Cotswolds, Venezuela, Voltaire
Great-Aunt Augusta: RIP
Mrs Connolly, the housekeeper at Murgatroyd Syylk’s pele tower,
was exhausted. She had overseen the triple marriages- well, dual
marriages and one re-espousal- of Augustus and Virginia, Drusilla
and Nigel and her employers: Diana and the aforementioned Murgatroyd.
She had given Dru a lace-trimmed hankie when her mascara had
threatened to run, as the bride had welled up at the thought that dear old
Aunt Augusta would not be with them. The old curmudgeon had loved a
good wedding, funeral or general family crisis. She had been sorely
Gus had raised a toast to ‘Absent Friends‘ at the end of his father-of-the-
bride speech, by way of respect.
Curiously a feather had floated down onto the top table at this very point.
It was black, but was nevertheless pronounced a good omen as it
appeared to be exactly like one from Aunt Augusta’s feather boa which
she always wore- even in Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry, at
‘aperro-time‘ as she was wont to call that crepuscular, inebriation
Clearly, she was with them in spirit, if not spirits.
They had left a place at the top table for her, or for The Grey Lady whom
she had conversed with, though nobody else had had direct
communication with the resident phantom.
Mrs Connolly had kept a lid on the petulant Mrs Milford-Haven, mother
of Nigel, who had been confused by her lengthy, Corbynesque train
journey from Cornwall.
She had scarcely been over The Camel in her lifetime, but was naturally
acquainted with the concept of a hump. This was no crude allusion, but
merely indicative of her tendency to sulk when she was not the centre of
attention. Maybe it was some kind of physiological Radon effect.
Mrs Connolly had handled her robustly.
Whit’s the matter with yon wifie? she had enquired. Has she peed on a
Soon she had calmed the situation down by introducing her to a Farrow and
Ball paint chart, which gave the peevish guest big ideas for Nigel’s post-
honeymoon guilt trip, to finish off the decoration of her bathroom.
Even Gus had been a tad emotional about his more-or-less step-brother,
Hugo, who was stranded in Venezuela. He had been unable to leave the
country to take up his proffered teaching post at St Birinus Middle, even
after all the hard work Virginia had put in with visa application and so on.
A black market hawker was unlikely to be able to afford a trip to The
Bachaqueros was a romantic collective noun, but everyone knew that it was
Dru had been exasperated: Why doesn’t he just add billions of zeros to a
Bolivar note and turn up at the airport with a wheelbarrow of them?
It’s not that simple, darling, sympathised Diana. We should have opened a
‘Generosity’ site to raise funds for him, I suppose.
Oh, I hadn’t thought of crowd-funding, Dru sighed.
Or he could have sold his Ford Pinto, muttered Gus. Though we have lived to
see Voltaire’s comments on paper currency come true.
The Rev Finlay Armstrong had been aroused at the mention of this notable
Yes, it returns to its intrinsic worth, Snod explained, as if he was back in the
Flickr-Voltaire (marble) by Houdon. Nat Gallery Art, Chester Dale,
Author: Sarah Stierch
But he was not back in the classroom. He was now to be a married man
and Virginia had suggested that he burn all his old teaching notes in the
new trendy, fire pit which Murgatroyd had installed so that his guests
could sit al fresco in the midge-ridden gloaming on the few Indian
summer evenings which were dry.
That was quick! she had remarked. There was a few singed curls of paper.
Where is all the rest? Had you shredded them?
No, Snod replied. I am of the old school. All my lessons were, and indeed still
are, in my head.
At least she was assured that there had been no incineration of erstwhile
love letters. She still had a little explorative rake-through with
Murgatroyd’s self-wrought poker.
She was right about the non-incineration of the amatory epistles. Diana
still possessed them- including the Valentine card which had gone astray
like many a Messianic sheep, all those years ago and which had led to the
But this seemed to be all in the past. Virginia had been reading Sandor
Marai’s book Embers and an apposite quotation from it had come to mind:
Time is a purgatory that has cleansed all fury from my memories.
We shall subsequently see whether this is indeed the case.
Meanwhile Mrs C was showing her fatigue in her usual Malapropistic
manner: So, when will you be back from Chipping Snodbury? she asked
Murgatroyd and Diana, who had planned a little antique-hunting
expedition in The Cotswolds.
Sodbury! they had exclaimed.
(Image:Commons File Meuble Heraldique Main
Zigeuner, Author Lobsterthermidor 11 Oct 2015 UTC)
The Red Hand of Ulster, to Clyde-side kids,
was seared into psyches via covert ink,
which proclaimed ‘King Billy!’ on closed desk lids,
beside ‘I think, therefore I am – I think.’
None of us knew what The Red Hand meant, though
class-mates ran the gauntlet, after the belt
had been strenuously applied. And so
this palm symbolised what we had all felt:
the stinging slash; the shock in the belly.
We would shout: ‘F.T.P!’ and ‘Ban the Tawse!’
should King Billy march on Lochgelly,
torching two-tongued ‘Heavyweights,’ to applause.
Belts could split chalk at one stroke -and wrists too,
sometimes for a mere three spelling mistakes.
We’d fight The Battle of the Boyne anew
for all those dyslexia victims’ sakes.
Dyslexia was unknown in Scoltand-
1960/1690: who’d know?
The only way to soothe a belted hand
was to stick it in your oxter, then blow;
not bawl: a shirt tail nasal convenience.
We’d grip a pencil stub and break its lead,
scoring: ‘I hate History…and Fenians!’
while the Commonwealth blushed overhead.
We confused ‘Fenians’ with ‘High Heid Yins.’
‘Sinister?’ – we grasped no heraldic lore.
We hadn’t heard how the Irish chose kings;
nor how The Hand had landed on the shore.
‘Red and green should never be seen-except
on an Irish colleen,’ it was said.
When my mother made me wear green, I wept:
blue was for Rangers; distinction inbred.
The lines on every palm are different,
whether it’s a Papist’s, or a Protestant’s.
In school we found red hands no deterrent;
we were all punished, whatever our slant.
The brave battle cry was : ‘Nae Surrender! ‘
This was essential to boost our morale,
while learning an alien agenda,
yet trauma would last through the interval.
( Image: The Dominie Functions by George Harvey, 1826
Abbot House, Dunfermline
Own work : Kim Traynor 5/11/2011)