Never ask for whom the bell tolls, sighed Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master
at St Birinus Middle School. It tolls for me.
Term had only just begun and the first form time bell had sounded. Gus
looked at the twenty five fresh-faced, newly kitted-out hopefuls who were
squirming at the tables in front of him.
An overwhelming sensation of deja vu swept over him, like a provincial
tsunami, and he opened his spanking new attendance register to call out the
boys’ names. Next year registration would be electronic, so thank goodness
he would have departed ere that.
Snod looked over the top of his spectacles. The little blighters had been
known to call out on each others’ behalf. Had there been a nuance of
sarcasm in the tone of the response? Even the process of determination as
to who was actually in attendance could be a minefield.
Really, he had not wanted this particular form, but The Powers That Be had felt
that a known disruptive such as the aforementioned might be better contained
under the eagle eye of an old timer. Caligula, as the Junior Master was
ironically known, had blanched, or even blenched, as Piglet was wont to do, at
the very thought of being responsible for such a mini-terrorist.
Snod scanned the seemingly endless blank pages in his Teachers’ Planner.
Half-term appeared to be galaxies away. If only he could stagger on till the
end of October. A nice little flu epidemic which would strike the boarders
would bring relief in the decimation of numbers, or maybe some hero would
organise a short trip, giving the rest of the staff some respite. But it wouldn’t
be him-ah, no! He had achieved the full set of medals for that activity in his
The timetable was becoming increasingly difficult to deliver, as each pupil
seemed to have a custom-made schedule with certain periods devoted to
individual activities, such as Performance, Learning Support, marimba, or
flugelhorn lessons with those blessed peripatetics, and so on.
This year things were becoming outrageous. Two boys had chillax sessions.
They had specially assigned ergonomic chairs and precious space had had to
be sacrificed to accommodate their beanbags, which meant that Snod had
been compelled to reduce the circuit of his classroom model railway. I say his,
as no one was allowed to touch the track, or the carriages, except himself, as
one unfortunate new kid on the block had found out to his eternal detriment in
But a mini-bar, well-fridge- for emergency rehydration of students before
Assembly! He really felt that was going too far, Still, he could put some
bottles of gin and tonic in there for the end of the school day. There might
not be room for a lime, but no matter. He could squeeze the bottles of
Evian to the back.
Castor and Pollux Willoughby- now they needed to be split up. They were
of an age when individuation was appropriate to their development. Besides,
he required a volunteer to partner John Boothroyd-Smythe. The fact that
neither of the twins wanted to sit beside the thuglet was neither here nor
there. He didn’t want to sit anywhere near him either.
Ah well, one year to go. Soon it would be over and his forty years of ticking
off the days, weeks, months and years to retirement was almost at an end.
Drat! He had entered Boothroyd-Smythe twice- once under B and then again
under S for Smythe. What was it with these double-barrelled nomenclatures?
They took up so much space and time and made one’s wrist ache when writing
Now his pristine first page was desecrated and despoiled by the correction.
The bell rang again, shrilly and insistently. Assembly!
Right! Line up. Boothroyd-Smythe, you lead the way! This was a time-worn
ploy to get the difficult ones onside. It never worked.
From now on, he determined, I’m going to address him as B-S. No point in
wasting breath. Conservation of energy is necessary to tide me through.