Mr Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster of St Birinus Middle School, was over-
excited as usual. It was almost the end of September and he had given a
great deal of consideration- mainly in the wee sma’ hours-to the
programme for his showcase Christmas term concert.
Greetings, chaps and chapesses! he enthused. (Several singers groaned.)
Welcome to the parents and staff who are supporting the boys in the end of
term concert. I am delighted to announce that we will be performing Britten’s
Ceremony of Carols and St Nicolas. If ever there was an accessible
programme, then this is it. Now I know that you will be wondering who the
soloists are going to be and I can announce that the youngest boy in the
choir will be the youthful Nicolas, as is traditional..
Here some parents looked as if they were about to vote with their feet, as
they had assumed that their mini Peter-Pears-in-the-Making was going to
land the eponymous role.
In fact, John Boothroyd-Smythe might have been a good choice as he
had nerves of steel, but his voice was about to break.
Geoffrey couldn’t imagine the latter springing from his mother’s womb, singing
‘God be glorified!‘ He had tried to keep the delinquent on board, but when he
had offered him the part of the final member of the trio of pickled boys,
Timothy, Mark and John, the ingrate scornfully replied, Who wants to be a
The answer to that was none of the boys, particularly, but all of their parents
were gagging for them to be chosen and were ready to literally sacrifice their
darlings, whether they were to be actually preserved in brine or not, for the
sake of a favourable mention in a review in the school magazine.
John’s rudeness had earned him a detention with Mr Snodbury. When he saw
the on-duty master reach into his briefcase for a quick snifter from what looked
suspiciously like a hip flask, John felt that the old boy would have been first
rate as a pickled adult.
John’s interpretation of the boys as Frankfurters, or chipolatas, en vinaigrette,
was somewhat literal.
Geoffrey had bitten back a comment to the effect that the role of
metamorphosed, or resurrected bratwurst would be highly appropriate for
such a pupil as himself.
Some of the semi-professional male instrumentalist members of staff who had
turned up to lead the Junior String Orchestra had been hoping for an elevation
from the ranks and longed for a recognition of their solo tenor voices. In
short, they wondered if one of their cohort might land the part of the adult
And so it came as a surprise when Poskett announced that Mr Nigel
Milford-Haven was going to sing the role of the saint, in view of his
enhanced experience which had been finely tuned– ahem!( he was aware
of his own pun) at the Bath Monteverdi workshop over the summer.
Nepotism! muttered one of the viola players, but that was to be expected
from a musician in their section.
Over tea in the staffroom the following day, Nigel raised the subject very
casually with Mr Snodbury as he stood in line to choose a biscuit from the
hostess trolley. He mentioned that he had been elected to sing the part of
the Bishop of Lycra.
Snod looked at him as if he was a first former and corrected him: Lyra, sir!
Lyra! He then snaffled the last Bourbon biscuit, which Nigel had been eyeing
throughout the conversation. Still, he couldn’t have everything, he supposed.
Lyra, yes, of course, that’s what I meant to say, he stuttered. Yes, it’s a
marvellous piece and the eighth movement is so homophobic.
Snod put half of the biscuit in his mouth and sprayed Nigel with a cascade of
dark brown crumbs: Homophonic, you ass!
He was clearly not having a good day.
Nigel considered reporting the Senior Master to the union representative
and fantasised about receiving enormous damages for his loss of self-esteem
and injured feelings, but to complain might mean that his stellar role would
be endangered and it was too important to risk that.
I heard the parental chorus sang the Old Hundredth fairly competently, Snod
remarked, as if nothing untoward had been voiced.
Yes, sir! He was relieved that he was on surer footing now and sat down
beside Snod in an ingratiating manner which irritated the eminence grise.
The boys enjoyed the part where Nicolas is enjoying his bath, he volunteered.
Snod had heard that there had been one or two sniggers at this point.
We rehearsed the section where the bewildered mothers were looking for
their lost sons. They assumed that the ‘wurst’ had happened.
Nigel congratulated himself on a very good joke, but Snod ignored it.
There’s a plethora of that type of female in the school yard, I always find.
Snod drained his tea in one-a practice he had perfected over many a break.
I don’t suppose Poskett was other than spoilt for choice. I hear he gave
the parts to the pushiest ones as usual.
I don’t know about that, Nigel practised being pontifically diplomatic, if that
wasn’t an oxymoron- ie/ he tried to sit firmly on the fence on any thorny
I expect that you can relate to the sixth movement, as can we all, mused
How so, sir?
Isn’t it a description of the barren years of incarceration? Snod said wryly.
Still, everyone gets their Nunc Dimittis in the end.
He was hoping for his very soon. Pension! God be glorified! But you will have
to wait much longer for yours, won’t you, under the new government
regulations? Never mind- God moves in a mysterious way. Maybe you will win
the lottery, if you say your prayers. You should buy a ticket in our
consortium. A tenner a month, that’s all.
Is that Camelot? asked Nigel who was somewhat otherworldly regarding such
vices and, in that respect, made more of a a convincing saint than any other
member of staff.
Camelot? repeated Geoffrey, who had only three minutes of break left, having
collected his large bundle of hate mail from his pigeon hole, all protesting about
his casting skills. Oh, there’s no Bourbons left! He looked devastated.
Camelot! Now there’s a good summer musical for you, suggested Snodbury,
rising from his club chair. I once sang the role of King Arthur many moons ago,
but I leave you my musical mantle, Milford-Haven. Even Elijah had to divest
himself of his garment so that the young Elisha could grow into his sandals.
And though there was no rushing wind or cloud of unknowing, he cast a
cursory glance at his empty pigeon hole and left humming:
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot..
And Geoffrey and Nigel had to admit that there was a deal of musicality left
in the old dog yet! In fact, there was even a look of the young Richard Burton
in his profile- or was it Richard Harris? Both were before their time.