Adam and Eve, Boldwood and Bathsheba, Burden stitch, cloths of Heaven, crewel, Die Walkure, George Bernard Shaw, Kelmscott, May Morris, Pre-Raphaelite, Primrose Hill, Sergius and Raina, Sparling, Superman, The Golden Stair, Tree of Life, Valentine card
A Minimum of Kindness
(May Morris, 1872. Wikipedia. Rossetti Archive; Bridgeman Images)
George Bernard Shaw:
She felt we had a mystic betrothal.
Her eyes betrayed some kind of assent.
Well, like her card, I found her quite handsome.
She asked for a minimum of kindness.
She’d shown maidens worshipping at my shrine,
but I was with a mature woman then.
Did she want me to cast cloths of heaven,
such as she embroidered, under her feet?
I tried to tread softly on all her dreams.
I was a bachelor then and too poor
to act as Sergius to her Raina.
(I hadn’t written my wretched play yet!)
Only a Superman could support her.
One minute she was roof-riding Kelmscott;
then absorbed as a domestic goddess,
designing tangles of honeysuckle,
which I now realise is dependent
and not parasitic, as I once feared.
Hmm, should women send men Valentine cards?
I think she had read too many novels.
I was no Boldwood to her Bathsheba.
She married Sparling in a fit of pique!
At least we remained friends. I went to see
her when he was away. We walked over
Primrose Hill; listened to Die Walküre.
I was marginally more excited
than staying at home to watch my paint dry.
Now she stands alone on The Golden Stair.
Later she wrote and made sure that I knew
that she was a remarkable woman.
Was this to stick a crewel into me,
pricking the Burden stitch into my heart?
How many times did May sew that Tree of Life?
I would not play Adam to her Eve:
it was a matter of independence,
but this Tree finally caused my downfall.
Arms and the Man, Bourbon biscuit, Britten, BUPA, Ceremony of Carols, Discovery Centre, electric bell, flu jab, Garibaldi biscuit, George Bernard Shaw, Ken Livingstone, nocturnal emission, Petkoff, proleptic allusion, prostate, Strictly, Tupperware, Type 2 diabetes, urologist, Viennese Whirls, Vince Cable, Well Man Clinic
Two weeks for half term this year!
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle School, could hardly
believe his good fortune. He had actually managed to stagger on and had
avoided becoming a stretcher case, even though he had received his flu
jab mid-session, which left him somewhat debilitated for a couple of days.
The Parents’ Open Evening had almost finished him off. He had been
stationed in the Library, now designated The Discovery Centre,
but had hoped that no one would ferret him out from his hiding place.
He was supposed to showcase its latest technology to prospective
‘clients’, but such a role reminded him of the Major in Arms and the
Man, who kept boasting to all and sundry of his latest piece of technical
kit for the reading room, namely an electric bell.
A divorced father wandered in, but he made a very hasty departure,
as he thought that Snod had given him his marching orders. In fact, the
prematurely-aged one had just been introducing the ostentatious Shavian
character’s name- Petkoff!- in order to make ironic reference to
furnishing accessories for educational spaces. However, Snod was
discovering out that fewer and fewer people shared his cultural references
and, consequently, his jokes were misconstrued, as we shall see later
in this post.
(That’s a proleptic allusion, by the way. But I digress.)
Snod may have lost the school some ‘business’, I fear.
While the elusive Master hid behind the bookshelves, he consulted
a Medical Dictionary.
At The Well Man Clinic, which Diana had urged him to attend, he had
been surprised to learn that he was close to the margin for being
diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. However, he had been advised that
he could hold back the waves, unlike Canute, if he reduced his sugar
intake. Worth a try.
Geoffrey Poskett, Head of Music, had been stunned earlier in the
day, by Gus having eschewed, rather than chewed, the last biscuit at
break. He had held out the Tupperware box to Poskett and waved the
Bourbon, usually his favourite mid-morning nibble, under the puzzled
You have it, he had said, graciously.
Geoffrey sat down and dunked the dark brown chocolaty finger into his
coffee while he waved his left hand in time to a beat that only he could hear.
Gus screwed up his nose. Dunking! This was a practice which he considered
to be anaethema– yea, beyond the pale. If he could have predicted the
biscuit’s fate, then he would have offered it to Nigel Milford-Haven, whose
eyes had followed its trajectory and milky disintegration.
Nigel had not bothered to open the cupboard in the staff kitchen, as he had
known that by now, there would only be packets of Garibaldis remaining, and
he would never ingest these, as they had far too revolutionary a name. One
could call them Flies’ Cemeteries, but a sweetmeat by any other name would
taste just the same, and revolution stuck in his craw. Leave it to characters
such as Red Ken Livingstone, who, no doubt, had sucked on the curranted
Italian perforated strips since boyhood. As for Viennese Whirls, they were
more Vince Cable, he had thought, ever since seeing the politician strutting
his stuff on Strictly.
And Nigel was not a Lib Dem. He wasn’t sure what he was. And that was why
he had been overlooked for promotion.
Gus, skulking behind the Human Biology section was looking up information on
nocturnal emissions. When the hymn All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name had
been announced in assembly that morning, Snod had been reminded of
another medical problem that he should have discussed at the clinic.
Let angels prostate fall, in line two, had leapt out at him, even though he knew
that there was a difference of one consonant. For, yes, he was getting up
several times in the night to take a leak, in prep school parlance and, so he
really must phone Bupa to see if he could choose a urologist who might be
in the country over half term. Vain hope!
He had glared at some of the older boys during the Junior Choir’s rendition of
Faire is The Heaven. It may have been a trial run for a future performance,
but he was too long in the tooth not to anticipate the sniggers at the phrase:
in full enjoyment of felicity.
Actually, Poskett was doing a good job. He had elevated himself in Snod’s
opinion by planning the Britten Christmas concert. It was ambitious, but,
apart from the difficulty of finding a harpist for The Ceremony of Carols, he
was managing the rehearsals sensibly and hadn’t requested anyone’s
absence- as yet- from a Snodbury lesson. Hence the biscuit offer.
It was the morning after the Open Evening and staff were all rather
exhausted. Snod had leapt up two minutes before the bell at break.
There was only time for a coffee, or for visiting the little boys’ room.
Avoiding chatty colleagues was a necessity for the implementation of
good time management at the interval.
However, just as he was about to exit the staffroom, he collided with a whey-
faced loon in the shape of young John Boothroyd-Smythe who had been
knocking on the door.
Is this a query which could be addressed in lessons? barked Snod,
practically wetting himself.
Well, sir, I’m not sure.. B-S stammered. It’s just that Dad gave me this letter
to give you.
Back to lessons! shouted Gus, hurrying down the corridor and pocketing the
envelope for future perusal.
It was only at lunchtime that he remembered to take the missive out of his
Harris tweed jacket pocket and then he read the parental complaint.
Apparently he was being accused of having told B-S’s father to ‘*** off’
the previous evening. Snod was confused until he recalled that one of
Shaw’s characters had similarly misunderstood the Major’s name and had
uttered the immortal interrogative:
A Pet what?
(To which the immortal reply should have been: a Petkoff.)
Snod muttered the well-known aphorism: Never apologise; never explain,
But he knew that he would have to try.
No wonder B-S had problems when his father was so dense! And B-S,
wasn’t that some kind of intestinal problem which had been mentioned on
the comprehensive leaflet which he had been given at the clinic? It was
related to stress and Snod was having bucketfuls of that experience every
day. Perhaps he should have that possibility investigated at the same time
as his prostrate, or whatever it was called.