Carmen, castanets, cigar coffin, Cretan gift, Culebras, cummerbund, Habanos, humidor, lector, Mantilla, matadors, Mulatto, Placido Domingo, Port Isaac, Royal Mail, Special Delivery, Spotted Dick, St Endellion, toreador
Nigel Milford-Haven, Junior Master at St Birinus Middle School, was enduring
the purgatory of his quarterly visit to his mother in Cornwall. The harmony of
the previous week, when he had taken part in musical workshops in Bath,
had been transposed into all-too-familiar familial discord within a few
Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster, was enjoying full participation in the St
Endellion Music Festival. He had been very keen to take part in its current
opera: Carmen, ever since he had read that the plot was set in a cigar
Once a sycophantic and subsequently threatening parent had been
insistent that his son should have the solo in the Wind Band concert
and had successfully bribed the Choirmaster with a humidor of plaited
cigars, of the genus Culebras, individual examples of which resemble
a naked woman whose arms are entwined above her head.
Apparently the flexible form of these cigars meant that they would not
snap when carried in the breast pocket of a worker who had to continually
bend, presumably to pack cases of Cuban Habanos. The cigars’ suppleness
came from the oiliness of having been rolled on the inner thigh of a Mulatto
maiden, or so it was alleged, by Augustus Snodbury, who took ownership of
this Cretan gift, as he termed it, almost as soon as Geoffrey had deposited the
wooden box of goodies in Snod’s pigeon hole.
Geoffrey had reacted fairly positively to this bribe, but his motivation in obliging
the belligerent barrister was influenced by a somewhat sinister implication
in the fact that the curved smokers’ delights came in a container which was
technically termed a coffin. He worried that if he did not give full parental
satisfaction in the matter of promoting this tone deaf and arrythmic child, then
he might have the disturbing experience of having the legs of his beloved
Steinway collapse during Assembly, having been sawn through, thus sabotaging
his lively rendition of Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus. After the gift
would come the threat and after the threat, extermination.
No matter that Geoffrey was a non-smoker. He would give Old Snod a
treat, just prior to the End-of-Term report readings. By dint of this
generosity, Geoffrey hoped that he would not be hauled over the coals
re/orthography, in quite so thorough a manner, by the ancient, proof-
Geoffrey had auditioned for the minor operatic role of factory lector, or
reader, and had been successful, mainly owing to his magisterial in the
Classical sense, credentials, rather than to any vocal skills. He had
accepted that a role as toreador was unlikely, given his expanding
waistline. Even a cummerbund had not disguised the physical consequences of
his termly addiction to nursery fare and to Spotted Dick in particular.
Now he was desperately writing to his aunt who wintered in Benidorm every
year, as there had been a run on castanets in Port Isaac gift shops. The
lacquered percussion instruments were as rare as Spanish mortgage payments.
Surely his aunt still had a pair of the aforementioned clackers hanging up in the
dining room, beside the Flamenco doll with the nylon lace ruffles and mantilla,
who faced down a moth-eaten, gored bull with the haughty expression Aunt
Margaret had directed towards her now mercifully deceased spouse.
Placido Domingo would have had to change his name and character to have
survived the basilisk glare from Aunt Margaret’s Spanish eyes, which had
mutilated more than a few matadors, leaving her triumphantly elevating
ears and tails, metaphorically speaking.
So, Geoffrey was relying on The Royal Mail, or whatever it called itself
nowadays, to come up with the necessary stage props for his committed
performance. He hoped Aunt Margaret would spend the extra postage
compensation he had sent her, to ensure Special Delivery of the coveted
It was a pity that his musical talents had not been recognised. However,
perhaps he was lowering himself after his immersion in Monteverdi
the previous week. This was purely for fun and even Bizet had stated that
they asked for ordure and they have got it.
It was a pity that his friend and colleague, Nigel, had had to respond to the
maternal summons and had been denied the opportunity to wallow in the
musical mire with him. He missed his company and thought of him with
empathy every time they rehearsed Parle-moi de Ma Mere.
However, it would have choked him if his companion had stolen a more central
stage role than himself, purely on the strength of his narrower waistline.
He also hoped that Nigel was not going to come between him and that rather
interesting female teacher from St Vitus’ that he had spotted at the
Monteverdi concert. This had been a rare occasion when he had thought that
there might be the possibility of compatibility between himself and a member
of the opposite sex.
Nigel had better back off, or he, Geoffrey Poskett, would see to it that Nigel’s
school bed was made up in apple-pie order for the whole of the Autumn term.
If he didn’t take the hint, it would be drawn conductors’ batons before dawn.