…. actually, no. Edinburgh 6/5/19
Photo by Candia, with apologies to Elizabeth Frink- and Glasgow.
Castor! Pollux! Have you done your prep?
Brassie was just checking that everything had been cleared so
that the family could enjoy the Bank Holiday. She hadn’t noticed any
scholarly activity going on in the boys’ room.
It’s all under control, mater, said Castor.
No worries! Pollux chimed in, not even looking up from his Ipad.
Are you sure?
Yeah, we outsourced it. It should be e-mailed back to us from India by
Randeep in time for Tuesday period 4.
What?! Brassica thought she was going to explode.
Well, explained Castor, Mr Milford-Haven was telling us that he was
snowed under by marking and that he had read about the latest
service where teachers could send their guilt pile abroad and have
scripts marked in a far continent for two quid… I mean pounds.
He had registered his mother’s glare.
I don’t know why you don’t like the idea, Mother Darling, Pollux
chipped in. You send out our ironing, don’t you?
It’s not quite the same thing, their mother pointed out grimly.
Teachers are supposed to gain knowledge of their pupils’
apprehension of their subject from assessing their charges’
Mr Snodbury doesn’t pore over our work, Castor replied. He
told us that he climbs up to the galleried landing over the
vestibule and, if the coast is clear, he scatters our exam scripts
over the banisters. He says that he has an instinctive awareness
of who is hot and who is not. He can tell by looking at the writing
if they are any good, or not, without even reading them. So he
picks them off the floor in rank order.
Apparently he has an inner geiger counter that tells him who
should be top. He was born with it and he says that is what
makes him a good teacher, added Pollux.
I don’t believe what I am hearing, Brassie said. It is a pity that
there will be no one in the office on Monday, as I would like to
speak to The Headmaster about this.
Oh, don’t Ma, both boys chorused. Snod is the best teacher in
the school. Everyone knows that.
I wonder if he even had teacher training, pondered their mother.
He said it was a waste of time, Pollux volunteered.
Oh yeah, agreed Castor. In that History lesson he said teachers,
like soldiers, only learned in the field. He told us that the difference
between theory and practice was as great as learning to stick a
bayonet in a sandbag in a training camp in Kent and actually going
over the top in World War One. That’s why some people call
teaching ‘classroom warfare’, he said.
I think that was a totally inappropriate thing to say to young
impressionable people, Brassie said, tight-lipped. I’ll deal with
this next week. Now, what was this prep that you sent off?
Maths, answered the twins. It’s not exactly difficult to grade.
It was all multiple choice.
I suppose the staff are relying on your honesty in feeding back
Yeah. Chillax, Mumsie.
Brassie gave Castor another severe look.
Anyway, laughed Pollux. Mr Milford-Haven told us that practically
everything is subjective. Even Gandhi just managed 64% in Kathiawar
School Exams and only achieved a ‘fair’ in Arithmetic.
And this is the standard of the people who will be marking my sons’
work! thought Brassie bitterly.
So what happens if you challenge Mr Snodbury’s scores? she persisted.
You don’t, clarified Castor. The last boy who questioned Snod’s addition
had a mark subtracted for impertinence, so nobody says anything now. We
don’t mind. It all comes out in the wash. That’s what he always says.
I see, said Brassie. She would have to discuss this with their father.
Clearly the only marking that was being done in that school was the
defining of masters’ territory. The way they still sat at those high desks
as if they were inviolate inside some Caucasian Chalk Circle of their own
making made her blood boil. She could only hope that Snod, The Senior
Master, would trip up as he stepped down from his raised dais to go to the
Staffroom at break- like that Millipede, as the boys called him. He needed
taking down a peg or two.
She felt like encouraging her boys in non-co-operation, something
that funny little man in the loincloth had advocated, she seemed to
remember. Ben Kingsley, yes. She’d seen the film with Cosmo when
they were courting. Passive resistance. It would be interesting to see
how Senior Management would handle that mode of soft insurrection.
It might bring the institution into the twenty first century. Goodness
knows how Ofsted had ever rated them ‘Outstanding!’ Maybe the
Inspectors just made everything up so they could go home early at
the end of a difficult week, eating Hobnobs in various base rooms and
frightening the life out of those who still had any remnants of vivacity
and enthusiasm for their subject. Fools! Did they not know that they
were being assessed on whether the Hobnobs were the chocolate variety
and whether the coating was milk or plain, according to the predilection of
the individual interrogator, eh, Inspector?
She was surprised at her strength of feeling!
It would serve the staff right if they encountered a bit of opposition if
they were contemplating posting off her boys’ precious outpourings to
a country where the Jain concept of ‘syadvad ‘ was rife. All views of truth
are partial. Ha! What she paid the school fees for was confirmation of
And she could hardly chide her little darlings if they were merely
anticipating and enacting the vile policy of those who were supposed
to be their guardians and mentors.
Another Bank Holiday over, Candia, Brassie sighed on the telephone.
She was always tired at half term, as the twins wore her out with
their irrepressible energy. She had to find low budget activities
that involved a lot of physical expenditure, but were not too demanding
of financial outlay. These kinds of activity meant that the hyperactive
Andy, the manic Border Terrier, could be included.
Running up and down hill forts and challenging Castor and Pollux to see
how fast they could do a circuit on the ancient rims was a good ploy.
She actually enjoyed climbing Stockbridge Down on her own, or with
Candia, once school had resumed. The elevation gave them a
perspective on their lives and the banks of violets produced Metaphysical
thoughts, similar to those expressed by the poets themselves. Those
steep walks took on an entirely different character.
So, did you write your poem, Candia? Brassica asked.
Yes. Would you like to hear it?
You know I always want to hear your poems, Candia, Brassie replied.
Oh well then…
SUNSET OVER STOCKBRIDGE DOWN
The sky is nacreous over Stockbridge Down.
Damp, grass-scented air carries the trilling
liquefaction of a nightingale’s song.
A Somborne field is bloodstained with poppies.
The dry brown earth is cracked under our feet.
Green spindleberries and sloe haven’t reached
their apotheosis. The violet bank
is invaded by rose bay willow herb.
We sit on a ridge and watch that huge disc
eighty four million miles away, setting
over Danebury Hill Fort, where others,
cradled in that ring, did the selfsame thing
a millennium ago. Down below
the detail of little houses is lost.
The wild oat sorters that look like black crows
moving diagonally across fields
have finished their task. The light is fading.
Rabbit colonies are in their warrens.
A busy family day’s activities
have ceased. Fatigue sets in and soon we’ll sleep
in the same landscape as Iron Age Man,
nightingales, seeds, grasses and the old sun.
Someone sitting here in years to come
will tap into collective consciousness;
will feel consensus, a consecration
and a universal empowerment
to carry on the eternal struggle.
Alan Titchmarsh, Bank Holiday, Ben Weatherstaff, Chelsea Flower Show, Cromwell, Dadaism, Diarmuid Gavin, dogulator, Existential, FT, geometrie vegetale, Hans Arp, How To Spend It, leaf spreader, leprechaun, mauvaise foi, NGS Garden scheme, Nihilism, pension forecast, pikestaff, Poundcafe, Roundhead, Secret Garden
Depressing news. Depressing weather for the Bank Holiday. Diarmuid Gavin
even pronounced the hundredth Chelsea Flower Show unimaginative and
Chlamydia looked out at the rain-soaked patio of Costamuchamoulah
must-seen cafe. Leaves swirled around and became mulch on the
She picked up an NGS brochure which was advertising various local gardens
which were to open in Suttonford to support the Anacondas In Adversity!
charity: a cause which she and her daughter, Scheherezade, fervently
She prayed for a meteorological change while stirring her Mocha, thus
destroying its award-winning fern imprint in choco-powder.
How much had she paid for this caffeine indulgence? As much as could have
bought her three houses in Stoke-on-Trent. Really, social and even solitary
caffeine was becoming a luxury she could ill afford. If her pension forecast
was anything to go by, she would be better supporting a Poundcafe
expansion from Kirby.
She flicked through last week’s FT supplement, How To Spend It. Maybe
someone could publish a spoof version and add a final ironic Not to the title.
She picked up a less pretentious publication and started to read an article on
dogulators. This had nothing to do with the abominable practice of dogging,
but was concerned with the various means and strategies for calculating
one’s canine friend’s true age.
Clammie thought that the formula was fairly simple: multiply by seven.
Apparently, like pension forecasts, it was a lot more complicated and involved
the recognition that some breeds age at different rates and that there are
periods when the pace accelerates and then slows. No wonder she was so
confused about how her age of receipt of pension contributions kept varying
and she found it hard to focus on the ever-receding pot of gilt as it miraged
out of sight under the insubstantial rainbow of her transient life.
She would have to do some work to increase her contributions. Maybe she
could create a garden design and take it to next year’s Chelsea show? It
couldn’t be so hard to gain a gold medal. There seemed to be a plethora of
She had heard Alan Titchmarsh, no doubt irritated by Gavin’s criticisms, use the
terminological inexactitude: iconoclastic, in reference to some of the designs.
She had conjured up the image of a Cromwellian regiment of out-of-control
Roundheads smashing up garden gnomes with their pikestaffs.
Hey! What if she created a moving installation using such a – she hesitated to
adopt the over-exposed abstract noun that had broken out all over Chelsea-
using such an innovative concept? She was sure that Diarmuid would be up for
a bit of Celtic licence as long as no one smashed a fibreglass leprechaun. An
art garden would be the answer to her spiritual stagnation. No- wait!- an Arp
garden. Now she was really feeling her creative sap rise!
Yes, Hans Arp had made woodcuts of leaves and forms and had just thrown
them together at random. She could imagine sitting on that elevated bench
with Alan T, discussing her concept. She would refer to Dadaism and
geometrie vegetale and might even call the plot an Existential Garden for an
Age of Nihilism.
It would be a space where she had lost the plot! She would have at its centre
two huge sculpted dice which would turn on an axis, like swivel-headed loons.
People might have to return a six to enter; or not.
She would impress Titchmarsh by echoing Arp: My garden represents a
secret, primal meaning slumbering beneath the world of appearances.
Chance points to an unknown but active principle of order and meaning
that manifests itself in the garden’s secret soul. Alan would be blown away
as if by a giant leaf vacuum. And the non-existence of any supporting
rationale would contain the ambivalence of the aforesaid appliance, as it
would contribute to a kind of chaos theory that, just like the leaf blower,
moved concepts around rather than forming them into a neat structure
and creating something useful, such as a compost heap. The leaf vacuum-
a metaphor for our time.
Secret Garden? She could place a rusting metal outline of a Ben
Weatherstaff figure leaning on a spade at its centre and a robin
could buzz around on elastic over an empty wheelchair. That might
suggest hope. On alternative days she would replace the wheelchair
with a vandalised shopping trolley, representing mauvaise foi. Brilliant!
Next year Diarmuid would not be bored, she could assure him.