Albion, AOB, archaic language, Baptism rite, Birinus, Captain Mainwaring, Coatbridge, Dad's Army, David Cameron, Eastenders, exophoric reference, Hercules, league tables, Nick Clegg, Pegasus, Pike, Scaevola, second person pronoun, Sisyphus, Spotted Dick, teachers' planner, tuning fork
Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster of St Birinus Middle School, indicated that
he wanted to speak by waving a rolled up cone of music manuscript
paper. There had not been enough time for his pressing item in the
previous Staff Meeting.
Permission to speak, sir? He addressed The Acting Head, Mr Augustus
Snodbury, who wondered if the music master detected any irony in his
exophoric reference to Dad’s Army.
It was in the hiatus between a discussion on educational theories and
their implementation, or otherwise, and an expression of subject-specific
discontent with timetabling difficulties connected to The Music
Department and its long term practice of throwing a tuning fork into
the well-oiled, or reasonably well-oiled, machinery of the school day.
Yes, Poskett. Out with it. We haven’t all day.
The School Song, sir…I think it is a little outmoded.
There was a collective gasp of shock and disapproval. This had
nothing to do with the view being expressed, but had more to do
with the perceived threat of lunch being delayed for the second time
in a week.
Well, sir, even the C.of E. is changing the lexis of its baptismal rite, to
attract the kind of congregation, or customer, who usually views
Eastenders and suchlike.
Snod looked as if he would explode, but Poskett carried on obliviously.
You see, children and parents today cannot relate to such phrases as
‘soaring Pegasus’; ‘the Herculean task before us’; Scaevola’s flaming
hand of courage and ‘Sisyphean persistence’.
And with what do you propose to replace these time-honoured phrases,
Poskett? Snod looked at him as if he was a First Year who had
forgotten his pencil case.
Geoffrey unrolled the paper and cleared his throat. I have taken the
liberty of re-writing our battle-cry and, if you care to listen, it will only
take two minutes to appraise you all of my new draft.
Taking a liberty just about sums it up, whispered a Sports master,
who, having been outside all morning in a howling gale, was naturally
fairly ravenous and just wanted the discourse to be concluded asap.
He couldn’t have cared less about vocabulary, unless it was an
unparliamentary variety on the pitch and then, unless it had been his
personal utterance, he noticed it very much and usually inflicted penalties
of runs around the circumference of the field, the number of circuits directly
relating to the grade of linguistic objectionality.
Spotted Dick! Snod agonised. The blasted boys will descend on it like
locusts in the First Sitting. Would locusts eat sponge puddings? This
thought troubled him, so that he barely heard Poskett begin his big sell.
It’s to the tune Old Suttonford, the choirmaster enthused. He held his
tuning fork to his ear and began to sing:
Our loving saint we’ve come to venerate
once reached the parts of Albion’s coast none else
would ever care to circumnavigate
and of our links to him we proudly boast.
Should our awards go into the minus,
we can always call on dear Birinus.
He blesses our results and should we slip
down league tables, he saves our sinking ship.
All laud and honour be to thee our saint
and may our praise to thee be never faint…
The lunch bell rang and woke several masters.
Nigel Milford-Haven automatically lifted his Teachers’
Planner and register from the floor.
Snod thundered: The bell is for me; not you lot. I will
determine when this lesson- er-meeting is over.
The thing is, Snod spoke decisively. Apart from the fact that
the scansion leaves a lot to be desired, may I say that I happen
to like archaic language. This wasn’t a question. It gives us a sense
of tradition. Poskett, the whole ditty is riddled with ancient second
person pronoun forms and Latinate polysyllabic verbs, to boot. It
would be even more challenging for those parents whose education-if
we could term their studies such- took place post-Seventies. Who
nowadays has a concept of veneration?
The only Albion the masses- he did not say ‘plebs’-recognise
is a football team from Coatbridge.
And ‘Sinking ship’ I find a cliched metaphor unworthy of this school.
Poskett’s head seemed to disappear into the ghastly non-sartorial
collar space where a tie should have been.
(Snod blamed this fashion faux pas entirely on David Cameron and Nick
And, since society was making inroads into the basic standards for which
St Birinus stood, the Acting Head showed a little mercy, not entirely
blaming the choirmaster for all of Britain’s ills.
Let’s put it to the vote, he declared. Who prefers this version?
Nigel felt obliged to raise his hand feebly, out of misplaced loyalty, since
he had discussed the re-write with Geoffrey on their holiday in early
December. He looked around furtively. No one else had voted.
Snod looked at him in the same way that Captain Mainwaring regarded
Pike. Only he did not say, Stupid boy! At least not aloud.
While most of the others gently stampeded out of the staffroom, all
Poskett could do was to direct his crumpled manuscript toward the bin
in the corner. And, at least his face was minimally saved, as the scrunched
missile met its target in one smooth and accurate trajectory.
The Sports Master, who had been impeded in his exit by a scrum, observed
this impressive hand eye co-ordination and invited him to take part in a
staff/ pupil basketball game in aid of Anacondas in Adversity.
But Geoffrey was too drained to make a commitment.