Alistair Darling, Arden House, bluestocking, Bogey, Boswell, chiasmus, Desert Father, diaspora, Dr Cruikshank, Dr Finlay's Casebook, Dr Johnson, Dr Snoddy, eggs Benedict, First Minister, Harley-Davidson, Lauren Bacall, Lichfield, Lives of the Poets, Mrs Thrale, Plan B, Rasselas, Sahara, Silk Route, stylites, table talk, Tannochbrae, Voisin
Shall we skip the Eggs Benedict? Virginia had asked on their final morning
at the Pele Tower. Fortunately, Snod was unaware of the implications
inherent in the euphemism that she expressed, in what she fancied was
a Lauren Bacall sultry growl. He hadn’t watched too many Bond films and
was unlikely to have visited Voisin in NY.
He was anxious to get going before the traffic built up. Maybe they could
break their journey in The Midlands? Lichfield, perhaps. He had always
wanted to visit Samuel Johnson’s birthplace.
It was a pity that he had to curtail the school holiday, but he had to be
available to the new Headmaster for preparatory discussions on what
should be on the agenda at the first Staff Meeting.
Virginia had to check that the printers had produced the new calendar.
The high road that leads to England…the noblest prospect! he quipped,
making reference to one of the great lexicographer’s sayings.
Well, it wasn’t a turn on for our previous Head Teacher, Virginia observed.
He preferred riding on a silk route through The Sahara on his Harley-
Davidson. Maybe he had to spice up his erstwhile academic life.
Different kind of caravan holiday from the usual.
Johnson once said there was desert enough in Scotland. Snod’s mind
began to wander to visions of its First Minister as a Desert Father,
sitting ‘on his tod‘ atop a pillar, stylites-style. Best place for him,
since he advocated splendid isolation for his compatriots.
They do say that Scotland’s education system is superior, mused
Virginia. Would you agree?
Ah, pontificated Snod, as my essayist hero said of the generic Highlander,
his fearlessness of assertion may either be the sport of negligence, or
the refuge of ignorance.
Sounds like a very astute analysis of Salmond’s performance in his
last debate with Darling. Virginia’s ripostes were gaining momentum.
I suppose the Scots’ independence of vision might have been nurtured by
the fact that no enemy would invade them, as there is nothing to be
acquired but oil. Yet the natives refer to their home as The Promised
As the good doctor remarked, Snod smiled, God may have made it, but
He made Hell too. But, to return to the debate, at the end of the evening,
Darling might have addressed his opponent with a Johnsonian put-down:
‘I have found you an argument, but am not obliged to find you an
understanding.’ Or, imagine the effect of a chiasmic remark such as:
Alex, your fantastical Plan B is characterised by features both good and
However, the part that is good is not original and the part that is
original is not good!
Virginia tried to change the subject since she had always been
taught that politics was not a suitable subject for table talk. At any
rate, we have eaten very well, in spite of the legendary abysmal
Yes, returned Snod. I suppose they have to take sufficient
nourishment to give them the strength to escape from their
terrible weather. It explains the diaspora.
But this summer we have experienced better weather here than
down south, corrected Virginia.
Yes, but it is always damp. The whole country consists of stone and
water. As Dr Johnson told Boswell, there may be a little earth above the
stone in some places, but only a very little. He described the landscape
as being like a man in rags; the naked skin peeping out.
Oh, I think you enjoyed your stay, in spite of all your grumbling,
laughed Virginia. It wasn’t only Bacall that could tame a Bogeyman.
It’s all a matter of taste, replied Snod. As Lord Eldon reminded
Boswell, taste is the judgement manifested when [one]
determines to leave Scotland and come to the South.
Mrs Connolly came in unobtrusively, to clear the breakfast dishes.
Virginia stood up to leave and finish her packing.
Don’t be rude, Gus. Where do you come from, Mrs Connolly?
I do indeed come from Scotland, Mrs Fisher-Giles, but I cannot help it.
She entered into the spirit of the banter.
That…is what a very great many of your countrymen ..cannot help,
He was delighted by the housekeeper’s classless erudition. Their
education must be superior indeed! Janet might have left Dr Finlay’s
porridge to burn if she had been engrossed in Lives of the Poets, or Dr
Snoddy might have been left unannounced in Arden House’s parlour
while she finished Rasselas over a wee cuppa and an oatcake.
Dr Cameron might have had to clear her etymological index cards from
his desk so that he could pen a prescription in Latin, which she could
have interpreted to the Tannochbrae chemist over a crackly phone
She was probably the one who wrote the script from the original
We’d better be getting on down the road, Mrs Connolly, Snod suddenly
said, rather wearily.
Turning to Virginia he remarked gloomily, At least I only have a few
more pensionless academic sessions to go before I retire.
Oh, cheer up, she flicked a napkin at him, much to the housekeeper’s
delight. Don’t think of retiring from the world until the world is sorry that
As he cleaned his teeth and performed his final ablutions before
the journey, Snod reflected that, surprisingly, he hadn’t tired of
Virginia’s company all that week and, if it was not for the pressing
urgency of his schoolmasterly duties, he wouldn’t mind spending the
rest of his life driving briskly round the countryside with such a pretty
woman who understood him and, as Johnson discovered in the shape
of Mrs Thrale, who could add something to the conversation. And, come
to think of it, his preferred type of hosiery was definitely now a