Tension was running high. There weren’t many weeks left until the St
Nicolas Concert and the Music Department of one-plus-a-few peripatetics
was becoming visibly anxious, willing the older boys’ voices to resist
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle School
was almost falling asleep in the foetid heat of the rehearsal room.
Almost, but not quite. He was there in his capacity of judge and jury,
for he had once sung the lead role in a very good amateur performance
of Camelot, but he refused to lower himself to participate in a school
production. He regarded himself as a semi-pro.
He was incredibly proud of his daughter, Drusilla, who had been persuaded
to play her harp in the second half of the evening, when Britten’s Ceremony
of Carols was to have its run through. He had also passed on a few useful
tips on breathing to Nigel Milford-Haven, tenor and eponomyous Saint,
whose day job made him a little lower than the angels, as far as his
mentor was concerned.
He had been secretly impressed by Nigel’s practical assistance in
manoeuvering Drusilla’s weighty instrument into the hall. She had been
surprised at such strength being demonstrated from what some would
term a weedy guy -the type who has sand kicked in his face. Usually she
preferred a bass, but chivalry seemed to be a tenor characteristic, if not a
long-term sustainability feature.
The basses just wondered why he didn’t ask the school caretaker to
assist. They felt they had brains as well as brawn. But they couldn’t know
how love gave Nigel the power to shift mountains.
Drusilla, being a House Mistress at St Vitus’ School for the Academically-
Gifted Girl, was playing a dual role. She was accompanying, in both
senses of the word, some of the members of the girl’s choir, who had been
jolly rousing in the movement where they had been drafted in to brew a
storm in the Journey to Palestine section. They had to sing, standing in
the upper gallery of the hall, on a pierced wrought iron platform, as if they
were on a boat, but Drusilla had stipulated that they should wear non-
uniform trousers for the evening. In spite of this modest attire, they still
raised a typhoon of raging emotion in the ranks of the older, pre and mid-
pubescent male voices and nearly made a shipwreck of the session.
Gus’ head was just about to lag and his breathing was threatening to
splutter, when his attention became riveted by the words of the Nunc
Dimittis, which Mr Geoffrey Poskett, Choirmaster, was conducting so
How very apposite! thought Gus. Those words! The boys must sing this
at my retirement, in the very near future. I have been a shepherd; I have
been kind and courageous: a ‘spendthrift in devotion’. I have guided boys
through all kinds of perils, on land and sea…Is that a different hymn? I
have defended them from the injustices of cruel men. I mean, some of
my past colleagues who were quite unreasonable. Like St Nicolas….Ah!
Didn’t I overhear Pollux Willoughby of Transitus A say that I was a legend
in my lunch hour? Or was it in his lunch hour?
(Maybe it was a deliberate ploy to gain an exemption from litter-picking?)
He could foresee a –what was the collective term for a group of grateful
parents?– ‘pension fund of parents‘ pouring from a brass, no, a golden
vessel, a libation of something very expensive in the alcohol line, say,
Paradis XO, over his head- minus his Panama, naturally. In that eventuality,
they should keep that nectar in the bottle and should anoint him with
something less valuable. A laurel wreath would do.
He became lost in this soft focus reverie. Then he had to rush back to mark
some wretched scripts. He left Nigel to assist with the harp, but noticed
Geoffrey Poskett getting in on the act, much to the tenor’s annoyance.
So, it was disappointing that, the very next day, Snod should have to be
confronting the troublesome John Boothroyd-Smythe, whose family was
experiencing difficulties, as everyone knew. Still, there was no excuse. The
bratwurst had behaved reasonably well in the rehearsal the previous
evening, but had disgraced himself in the refectory at lunch, by
commenting audibly, as he expectorated a lump of gristle, that the school
faggots– those culinary delicacies which the dinner ladies had been serving
up for aeons- were probably equine, or the products of the same butcher
that Nicolas, Singing Bishop of Myra/ Lyra?, had condemned for
sausagifying – was that a gerund?- the three pickled boys, Timothy, Mark
Gus refrained from issuing him with the ultimate punishment: suspension
from school, not physically, though there was a very useful flagpole should
the need arise, but he did require the irritating one to write out The Old
Hundredth in musical notation three times, for the following Friday.
The Senior Master was particularly annoyed as he had been on lunchtime
yard duty and there hadn’t been any faggots left by the time he got to sit
down and invite indigestion. Only the vegetarian options had remained,
sadly. He was so hungry that he almost felt like eating a boy himself, saintly
prohibition, or not!