disempowerment, exploring sexuality, fobreglass figures, gender fluid, Glasgow School of Art, LGBT, Matron, nursery rhymes, orienteering, phallic symbol, Scotch egg, seahorse, Twelfth Night, Venice Biennale
(54th Venice Biennale. Photo by Gianpiero Actis, 2011)
Mr Poskett threw a sickie and Mr Snodbury threw a fit.
The fact was that the Staff were uninterested in exploring anything
other than signing off their end of term reports. They were not
disinterested- no, they were absolutely NOT interested.
Their charges were of an age which displayed other concerns. Perhaps
this was owing to maturational unpreparedness, or, as the enthusiasts
for enlightenment felt, it may have been because of a lack of education.
Whatever the reason(s), the boys seemed, on the whole, happy to assign
themselves to the male gender. And, although they had been deprived
of the older stalwart nursery rhymes which used to be features of
kneeside anthologies, such as:
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice…,
they intuitively accepted that they were composed of rats and snails
and puppy dogs’ tails. They knew that was the case, as the little girls-
if not the Bible-told them so. They behaved accordingly in the school
yard, changing rooms and playing fields. If anyone cried, he was a
But now such cruelties were being challenged by PSE teachers, some of
whom had been ‘blubbers’ themselves.
(Yes, Dear Reader, it has always been a cruel world.)
Occasionally one or two pupils had explored their sexuality under cover
of darkness, but Matron merely arranged for their sheets to go to the
laundry a few days earlier, and nobody said a word.
Believe it or not, some boys had even had a passing crush on Mr
Snodbury- not that he had ever noticed. Perhaps they had mixed up
their enthusiasm for cricket, with the Master who supervised them at
John Boothroyd-Smythe, at least, had an inkling (very CS Lewis noun) of
what the fuss might be all about. Remember that his older sister, Juniper,
had been diagnosed (by whom?) as gender-fluid. John had mixed this
term up with Jeyes Fluid, which was something that his mother had used
to scrub the patio, so no wonder he had been confused.
Anyway, Juniper was expressing all that fluidity by sublimating it and
creating installations of an international rating while in her final years
at Glasgow School of Art. Not for her any cliched phallic symbols, or womb-
like apertures in sculpture. Oh no, she challenged assumptions
about the male/female brain.
One of her latest works had been accepted for the Venice Biennale.
She had moulded two fibreglass figures: one male; the other female.
Then she bought an old couch from a re-cycling centre. The male was
recumbent on the sofa, in front of a defunct television ( also from the
same site.) The female had an over-sized remote in her hand and was
zapping the man.
(Juniper had had the fake device cast at a local blacksmith’s, but he had
shared none of the glory. That was because he was a craftsman and
not an artist. There seems to be an aesthetic distinction, Dear Reader.)
The title was: Untitled, even though her tutor had advised something
about disempowerment gaining strength, or the worm turning. Juniper
felt that a work of art should speak for itself, even if most were silent.
So, on this day of exploration, the school kitchen entered into the spirit
of the occasion, as keenly as boy bishops had embraced a day of misrule.
To Mr Snodbury’s chagrin, Spotted Dick and other meaty favourites were
‘off‘ menu. Themed sandwiches and labelled salads were on the
menu du jour.
Gus stood perplexed at the counter. Usually, he didn’t have to make a
difficult decision. The queue was building up.
Oh, I’ll have one of those bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, he
addressed the girl (but was it a girl?) behind the serving hatch. He
removed the toothpick with the little pink and blue flag which proclaimed
The breezy reply was : Oh no, sir, it’s nothing to do with lettuce etc; it’s a
Lesbian, Bi and Trans versatile brunch snack. You should try something
new every day. The ‘g‘ doesn’t stand for ‘gherkin‘ or ‘garnish‘…
I’ll take a Scotch egg instead, grouched Snod.
Yes, men can have eggs too, smiled the girl. Seahorses…
Indeed, curtailed Snod.
Nigel was behind him in the queue. He indulged in no prevarication,
but merely placed a mini-salami on his plate, without a word. He
eschewed salad, as he wasn’t over-keen on cucumber, or it wasn’t keen
on him. He could never remember which way round it was. His mum
That’s not much, cautioned the girl. Would you like an ACDC apple cake?
You’ve got to keep your strength up now that I hear you are to be married.
Is it to a boy or a girl?
Nigel ignored the latter part of the dialogue. He simply asked for
clarification as to the dessert.
It’s just an apple turnover, sir.
Okay. Thanks. He blushed to his specially worn pink socks .
To cover his embarrassment, he turned to the PE teacher behind
him. What are the lads doing after lunch? It must be difficult to theme
Well, we thought we’d do a spot of orienteering, Dave winked. What are you
Just exploring cross-dressing roles in Twelfth Night and the like, Nigel
Fascinating, said Dave, whose eyes were riveted on the turnovers. Hey,
can I have two , please?
Some people are just greedy.
Just leave her alone, Gisela. You can’t make someone care about
you. You have your own narrative and your own life to live. It’s her
Brassie’s counsel was directed at the rather disconsolate parent of
Juniper Boothroyd-Smythe, who hadn’t contacted her mother once
since swanning off to study at Glasgow’s infamous School of Art.
We were sitting round a table at Costamuchamoulah’s caffeine
One day she will wake up and smell the coffee, I ventured. I
picked up an in-house copy of Country Life magazine and flicked
through its glossy pages. Listen to this pretentiousness and have
I quote: ‘What sort of coffee are you sipping….? Does it sparkle on
the palate…or is it darker, earthier, with a suggestion of leaf mould?’
Oh, that’s nothing, sniffed Gisela, already brightening up. Some
people drink civet…
Ugh! Kopi Lowak! grimaced Brassie. Who wants to imbibe an
infusion of liquid produced from the defecation of the Asian palm
Thousands of connoisseurs, apparently, I informed them. The
first cuphye-house in Britain was opened in Oxford, for the learned
community, apparently. The intellegentsia, or so-called, can be most
impressionable, so they are probably guzzling weird concoctions
in gallons up there, even today.
Let me have a look at it. Brassie grabbed the article from me, rather
I see what you mean by pretentiousness, she remarked after a few
seconds. Hark at this! It says: a spokesman for coffee brokers says
‘entire countries unknown to the public, such as Rwanda, are coming
on-stream…’ As a member of the public, have you heard of Rwanda,
The latter was rhetorical and ironic.
We all saw ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, she replied.
Precisely. How dare they assume that the public is geographically
ignorant! Brassie’s fur was flying.
I seem to remember that the Asian civet, Paradoxanus..
Paradoxurus, corrected Brassie.
Hermaphroditus, I flyted. I know. I know…was known as a toddy
Puts one off a hot night-cap, Brassie broke in. And we all know how
partial she is to her little snifter-and not just for dental or medicinal
purposes. (She probably only knew the Latin derivation because her
twins were doing a biology project on large mammals.)
Well, I must be off, said Gisela. I can’t stay around coffee -housing
any longer. But thanks, guys, for cheering me up.
Coffee-housing? we both queried.
Oh, a hunting term which indicates unnecessary chatter, Gisela
And somehow we didn’t find this pretentious at all, but rather
informative. But then we love etymology.
You know, I feel sorry for Gisela, I commented when she had left.
That girl of hers is the limit. She edits her own version of events and
can be quite manipulative.
She is a little devil, agreed Brassie.
A printer’s devil, I found myself saying. Wait! I retrieved my notebook
and pen and started scribbling:
So, you want to write me out of your life?
(I’ll finish it tonight and you can have it later on this week…)
apple ducking, Botox, Bratz, brownies, D H Lawrence, freezing eggs, Frieda Lawrence, Frozen, Glasgow School of Art, Lady Chatterley, liquid nitrogen, Marshmallow, Northern Lights, Norwegian fjords, ovopositor, Permafrost, Rate My Teacher, rosemaling, Sami, Stanislavski
Mum! Hi! How’s it going?
Drusilla had to snatch a chance to phone her mother. She was on the
go all day, every day, at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-Gifted Girl‘s
boarding house. Still, it would be half term soon. She would have to
start baking all those farewell Brownies. She felt that the girls should be
baking them for her, but they made such a mess in the kitchen.
The Juniors were in the common room, watching Frozen. It was a treat,
as everyone was up to date with their prep and it gave Dru a chance to
catch her breath. Her Deputy was on maternity leave, so the lot fell largely
Things had been quieter on the whole since the brazen Juniper Boothroyd-
Smythe had left and gone to Glasgow School of Art. It had been a real
challenge, keeping her on track. Still, her father had been very grateful
and donated a case of Pop My Cork! wine to the staffroom.
Great, dear! Murgatroyd and I were contemplating a little cruise. I quite
fancied The Norwegian Fjords, but forgot that they would be in darkness at
this time of year.
I suppose they might be illuminated by The Northern Lights? suggested Dru,
not really focussing on what she was saying, because she suddenly noticed
a paperback on the coffee table in the hall.
Wait a minute, Mum. Look, I’ll phone you back.
Dru snatched up the offending title and stuffed it under her jumper. Lady
Chatterley’s Lover! She would have to have words with the Upper Fifth!
Oh, hi, Miss Fotheringay. It was Isolde Percival, Scheherezade’s younger
sister. She was having a taster sleep-over to see if she liked boarding.
Have you seen my English reader?
Dru thought that Isolde might spread it around that the Boarding Mistress
of Weston House was in a state of infanticipation, if she were to notice the
bump under the magisterial sweater. It would be a historical re-run, as Dru’s
mother had once been a boarding house mistress, and she had left with a
very pronounced bulge, namely Drusilla herself. That was in the days when
you implicitly signed away your fertility in your acceptance of your terms and
conditions. However, the responsibility for the latest sprog entry on the
school waiting list had been passed on to Diana’s unwitting new beau,
MurgatroydSyylk. Yet now all appeared to be forgiven and they were
planning to see what floated their current boat.
Aaaaaaaaaaatishoo! Dru utilised some kind of method acting which might not
have impressed Stanislavski.
Sorry,dear. Just a moment.
She propelled herself into the staff office and pretended to look for a box of
tissues while she gave birth to the banned text.
Just my allergy, she apologised. Oh, was this the book you were looking for?
Someone must have handed it into the office. Is your name inside it?
Isolde looked inside the front cover. Yes, Miss Fotheringay. It’s definitely
It felt curiously warm.
Isolde, emm, is this a reader that you have been given as a whole class?
Yes, Miss Fotheringay. It’s on the syllabus. Mum’s been reading it too and
we discuss it at home.
Dru felt frigid, never mind frozen.
Very well. Run along and tell the Juniors that they need to stop the DVD
now and get their jammies on.
A chorus of Aaaaaws!! reached her ears.
Hi, mum! Sorry about the interruption. Did the girls read Lawrence when
you were on the staff?
Oh, good heavens-yes! Usually under the blankets with a torch. We used to
confiscate the copies and read them ourselves. It was still banned as a dirty
book until 1960.
Anyway, we are going to go to Oslo and then plan to go north to see as much
Sami culture as we can. I want to learn about rosemaling.
Who is she?
No, it’s an art form, explained her mother.
Reminds me of the film the girls were watching. Frozen, Dru
Sounds as if there’s a lot more fun in the old place than there was
in my day, remarked her mother. The pervasive atmosphere then
was more like Permafrost, especially in the Senior Non-Smoking
Anyway, must love you and leave you as Murgatroyd wants
me to book some reindeer thingy online. Speak soon!
And she was gone.
Dru caught a glance of herself in the mirror. Her complexion was
greyish and it was only five weeks into term. Her face looked as if
it needed Botox, or a blowtorch, perhaps? As for the rest of her…
She wondered what Lawrence would have made of her type. He’d
probably have thought her barren and in need of a few visits to a
Hmmm. At this rate she would need to apply to the governing body to ask
if they would pay for her to freeze some eggs. She didn’t fancy having that
mannish science technician doing something drastic to her ovopositor with
liquid nitrogen. It had been bad enough when she’d had some warts
Well, Time’s winged chariot and all that…She was unlikely to meet Prince Hans
of the Southern Isles while she was in loco parentis to this lot. If she was
ever to thaw out, she might just have to stop sticking the shards into her soul
and hitch up with good old Nigel. At least he wasn’t a mythical devil teacher
taking his pupils through the world, distorting everything they saw in his weird
mirror. He was more like Marshmallow (not!), the bodyguard in the film.
Trolls seemed to leave him alone, even on Rate My Teacher sites, as he was
wise enough not to raise his head above the parapet.
Yes, she could do a lot worse and, even though she didn’t look like a Bratz doll
and never had, she thought that she had had enough of the cerebral and might
just try to explore this vitality thing that Lawrence kept banging on about.
However, she didn’t intend seizing him- Nigel, she meant, not the novelist, by
the throat, as Mrs Ivy Bolton was said to have done, metaphorically-speaking,
to David Herbert’s poor old paralysed Clifford. No, she’d take a gentler approach
and invite him – Nigel, she meant- to Weston House’s Apple Ducking Evening and
would see how it went from there. (She couldn’t envisage DH ‘dooking’ for apples.
Not with that huge chip on his shoulder. Frieda, maybe, but not him. Mind you, she
couldn’t imagine Nigel being very successful at it either.) Nor at other playful
activities, but- as the girls were wont to say, Don’t go there!
Acorn Antiques, Bonnie Prince Charlie, chevet, Cluedo, commode, communion chalice, conceptual art, double bass, entropy, EPNS, Festival Fringe, Glasgow School of Art, lang pack, laws of physics, Lee Hall, monteith, Mrs Overall, poisoned dwarf, Rebus, Steradent, Taggart
Murgatroyd could have screamed, Infamy! Infamy! Someone’s had it in for
me! Instead he muttered, Entropy! Entropy!
He had always been a glass half empty kind of guy. He had concluded
that the Earth and planets in general tended towards a state of disorder.
That was why he was such a control freak. Single-handedly he
attempted mastery of the Universe. That had been the main issue
between himself and Diana when they had been man and wife.
His embracing of one of the fundamental laws of physics only served to
encourage his concentration on the total absence of the glass itself, and
not just half its contents.
Of course, it wasn’t a glass that was missing, but the very chalice from
which Bonnie Prince Charlie had received his final communion before he
ventured over the Scottish/ English border.
Murgatroyd had tried to dismiss the niggling suspicion that his cleaner’s
grandson had something to do with its disappearance. After all, had the
dodgy relative not made an unusual request to leave his double bass in
the kitchen for a day or so? The explanation had been that he was going
to play in a Festival Fringe gig the following weekend and didn’t want to
‘humph it around’ till then.
The local ‘polis‘ had found this highly significant and had quoted the rural myth
associated with Lee Hall, to wit: that a pedlar had once persuaded servants
who had been instructed that no one should be permitted to stay overnight
in their master’s absence, to store a ‘lang pack‘, as a compromise, in
the kitchen, since they refused to shelter him and it was too heavy to
transport further. He promised to collect it in the morning.
At nightfall, the servants retired and a man emerged from the parcel
and unbarred the door, blew on a silver whistle and admitted some
thieves who had been waiting for the signal.
The ‘polis’ had considered himself an admix of Rebus and Taggart and was
feeling as smug as someone who had just won at Cluedo, without cheating.
Diana had undermined his confidence by pointing out that not even a
poisoned dwarf such as Mrs Connolly’s grandson could have survived in a
three quarter-sized case without air holes.
Drusilla underscored her point, namely that Juniper, though an enfant
terrible, was perfectly honest and, if she had borrowed the aforementioned
object for a piece of conceptual art, would have replaced it before she left.
Dru said that she was writing a character reference for Juniper’s admission
to Glasgow School of Art, and, as her House-mistress, could vouch for her
honesty and probity of character.
In fact, she avowed, at times she is too honest.
As for Juniper’s father, Maxwell, Dru had been talking to him throughout the
interval, so she knew that he had not been wandering through the house.
He had been flattering her, but joked about the interval being ‘the best bit.’
He hastened to assure her that it was not because he was not enjoying the
concert, but that he was particularly relishing their little tete-a-tete.
Nigel had interrupted to tell her that they had three minutes till the second
half. He thought Maxwell was the smarmiest man he had had the misfortune
to encounter and was desirous of breaking up their little love-in.
Well, as you’ve said, mused Snod, Mrs Connolly was doing her impression of
Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, handing round haggis canapes and so on.
She would have noticed any of the audience wandering about. The portaloos
were in the courtyard and the signage was clear, so no one should have been
in here. They had no business to stray.
Sonia added: And I am sure that the chalice was in its niche when we went
to bed. Remember- you were showing it to us when we had the punch from the
monteith? She addressed this to Murgatroyd who was fiddling with his
cravat in a distracted fashion. Then you put it away and we all went
upstairs. Mind you, I had a feeling that something was going to happen.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I was on the stairwell and
I could have sworn that something cold touched my face.
Mmm, agreed Diana, though privately annoyed that Sonia always claimed to
have known about things after the event. But any thief would have taken the
monteith. It would have seemed more blatantly valuable than the chalice.
The confab was continuing when Aunt Augusta came down the steps into the
barmkin, balancing herself on a stick with a horn handle. She eased herself
onto a high-backed, tartan-upholstered wing armchair.
Why are you all looking so serious? she demanded. It was a lovely concert,
though I didn’t hear much of it. Now I can die happy.
Don’t worry, darling, soothed Dru. There might have been a little robbery,
but no one has been hurt. You didn’t hear anything, did you? She
immediately realised how silly that question had been.
I thought I heard some bagpipes in the early hours, Aunt Augusta said
thoughtfully. When I got up to visit the commode, I thought someone
pushed me, but it was only that grey lady –
Grey lady?! they chorused.
-the one I spoke to on the stairs on the way up to bed. I asked her if she
had anything that I could put my dentures in and she brought this up later
and left it on the bedside table. She didn’t even say goodnight when I
thanked her. Not a word. Left it on the bedside table, she did.
Chevet, darling, groaned Murgatroyd. It’s a chevet. He could only hope
that the old dear hadn’t used the Japanese lacquer commode, which was
purely decorative and had cost him a king’s ransom in a London auction.
Well, whatever it’s called. She brought that little goblet thing to me and jolly
useful it was too. I hope my Steradent hasn’t tarnished the silver.
It’s probably just that cheap EPNS stuff, though.
And she took the missing chalice out of her capacious handbag, with a
Somebody take this from me, she ordered. I can’t reach to put it back.
I shrank in 1993.
And she grinned- very pleased with herself- but was totally unaware
that she had forgotten to replace her dentures.
Oh, Aunt Augusta! they all cried.
If only their collective intelligence had been harnessed, they might have
explored more possibilities and might have overcome the entropy that
had threatened to de-stabilise the shared sensation of success of the
Clearly a longer course of meditation at The Tibetan Centre would be
no bad thing in the future.
Meanwhile, who was going to accompany Aunt Augusta in the taxi, all the
way to Snodland? She couldn’t possibly travel on her own, though she
had miraculously arrived safely on the northward journey.
Drusilla knew that the lot would fall on her. Oh joy!
Nigel would have to drive the hired van back on his own. It
must be admitted that he had his uses, even if he had a tendency to
come in too early.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Burns' Night, Caligula, Commonwealth Games, D-day celebrations 2014, emoticons, Eskdale Hotel. Langholm, Glasgow School of Art, Henry Moore's King and Queen, incontinence pads, Kagyu Samye Ling, Land Girl, portable catheter, Sauchiehall Street, Snodland, Tibetan Centre, Usain Bolt, whippersnapper, Willow Tea Rooms
It’s gone! It’s gone! Murgatroyd’s face was ashen.
Calm down, dear! Diana took control. She was used to his
But it was here last night when we had the post-concert
drinkies. And the glass hasn’t been smashed. We didn’t hear
the alarm. I don’t understand it.
The niche where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s chalice had been
displayed was now empty.
What a shame! The concert had been a triumph and there had
been some surprise visitors. One, in particular, had caused
consternation and a re-shuffling of the sleeping arrangements.
Aunt Augusta had shown up in a taxi, gleefully proclaiming, Have
portable catheter. Can travel!
The taxi driver sheepishly unloaded the packs of incontinence pads
from the boot and waived the tip of an obsolete half crown.
When reprimanded about the staff at Snodland Nursing Home for the
Debased Gentry being frantic with worry, the rogue aunt merely
shrugged and said: That old chap escaped for the D-day celebrations
in Normandy, so, as a Land Girl, I wasn’t going to be trumped by some
whippersnapper of a male. You can phone and tell them I’ll return
after I have heard my great-niece in concert. I’ll be back on Wednesday
as it’s the day I have my corns done. Tell them not to strike a medal; I
have enough of them at my age.
The other unexpected members of the audience were Maxwell
Boothroyd-Smythe and his delinquent, but artistically-talented daughter,
Juniper. Thankfully her pesky little brother had been taken to some kind
of trendy boot-camp by his mother.
Juniper had been photographing the burnt-out Glasgow School of Art, where
she had been promised a place if her predicted grades were achieved. Her
father found that checking out possible accommodation for the Autumn term
was nigh-on impossible, as The Commonwealth Games‘ crowds in Sauchiehall
Street were overwhelming. The chance of having a cup of tea in The Willow
Tearooms was as slight as Usain Bolt failing to win a gold medal.
Finding the city too crowded, they had set off for The Borders, hoping to see
Henry Moore’s King and Queen sculpture and to visit the Kagyu Samye Ling
Tibetan Centre which Juniper had been harping on about for months. Goodness
knew, her father had been seeking inner peace for some time. So, he agreed.
They had been eating a bar snack in The Eskdale Hotel, Langholm, when
Juniper’s observant eye focused on a flyer advertising a clarsach concert.
Dad! Let’s go to that! It’s that form teacher of mine. She’s playing at some
kind of a tower house near here. That nerdy guy who’s John’s form teacher-
the one they all call Caligula- is singing. It should be a laugh.
When is it?
But won’t you put them off?
No, Miss Fotheringay is well-used to me surprising her.
Maxwell studied the mini-poster. He recognised the woman. She had scrubbed
up quite well. Probably Photo-shopped. Yes, he had danced Strip the Willow
with her at the PTA Burns’ Night.
Okay. Okay. But I’m not phoning ahead for tickets. We might get lost.
Probably hardly anyone will turn up, so we can buy tickets on the door.
I knew there was something going on between those two, whooped his
Juniper was already texting her friend Tiger-Lily, using a full range of