Alan Bates, Andrew Marvell, Antiques Roadshow, Babylon, barmkin, Ben Batt, Corydon, Damon the Mower, Deep Heat, Downton Abbey, eclogues, Farmers' Markets, Fiona Bruce, Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, Green-Winged orchid, Grim reaper, Hayter, Highgrove, Lammas, meadow management, Mower to the Glow-Worms, Mr D'Arcy, One Man Went to Mow, pastoral, Pele Tower, Ph.D, Pig-gate, Poldark, Schroeckenfux, scything, snath, Stag's Breath liqueur, The Go-Between, troubador, Voltarol, wu wei
Diana Fotheringay-Syylk was administering embrocations
and a little tlc to a recumbent Murgatroyd, who is, as some
of you will recall, the owner of a Borders Pele tower.
Privately, Diana thought that he had been over-doing things
and Voltarol was not really having a great deal of an effect on
his lumbar aches and pains.
It had not helped when he had lugged plastic crates round the
local Farmers’ Markets, selling his Empress Bangers and porcine
Yes, Dear Reader, Pig-gate had already struck, before the
Cameronian variety hit the news.
(Photo:Alpha from Melbourne)
Once he had cleared out the pig-pen area he decided to
re-seed it, to please Diana, who had been upset when their
gardening firm had rotovated the wrong field and inadvertently
destroyed their recently established Highgrove-style wildflower
meadow and a group of what she took to be Green-Winged Orchids.
(Photo by Didier Desouens)
From then on, Murgatroyd had decided to do away with mechanical
Hayters and, Diana, having been inspired by Aidan Turner, like so
many females d’un certain age, had booked him in – Murgatroyd, that
is – for a Lammas weekend scything course in Brighton, where he was
going to learn the sociology of the bar peen.
His back-ache had been exacerbated by carrying the large A4 pack of
information he had been given at the start of the course. Someone had
probably gained a Ph.D in Rural Studies from producing it.
That meant she could watch the boxed set of Poldark in peace, while
he practised with his new, Austrian light-weight, zero-carbon
However, her pastoral idyll had been disturbed by Murgatroyd’s
complaints, not in the manner of a Corydon, or passionate troubador,
but more in line with the average husband who experiences muscular
twitches, or sciatica. He was recumbent and had hung his instrument on
the equivalent of a willow tree, while he lamented his estate, as if he
had been exiled from Babylon. He felt as if one of the Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse had wounded him – perhaps that skinny one with the
hoodie and the big scythe.
We’ve run out of ‘Voltarol’. You’ll just have to use the ‘Deep Heat’ until
the shops open tomorrow and I go down to the pharmacy, Diana
informed him, noting that The Go-Between was on later that evening.
What a pity she didn’t have a little gopher, like Leo, to pop upstairs
with the tube of emollient. She was fed up running up and down stairs
pandering to the invalid.
Having taken him a Stag’s Breath liqueur and having poured a generous
shot for herself, she settled down with the remote in a comfy armchair, in
This had better be good, for she had enjoyed the Alan Bates version.
For some subliminal reason, she hummed One Man Went to Mow, Went to
Mow a Meadow…
It wasn’t too long before she found herself re-winding to check the length
of the snath handle Batt was implementing. Impressive-and that was just
his wu wei.
Meanwhile Murgatroyd was looking at a John Deere catalogue while Ben
Batt cut a swathe through Downton‘s viewing audience and no one could
remember what Fiona Bruce had been rabbiting on about on The Antiques
Roadshow. For, there was an attempt to high-jack a Mr D’Arcy moment for
Later, in bed – the spare bed – Diana could not clear snatches of eclogues
from her overactive mind. She kept thinking of Andrew Marvell poems, such
as Damon the Mower, The Mower to the Glow-worms and Mowing Song.
Snippets of the verses repeated themselves:
Sharp like his scythe his sorrow was,
And withered like his hopes the grass.
How happy might I still have mowed,
Had not Love here his thistles sowed.
…there among the grass fell down,
By his own scythe, the Mower mown…
T ‘is death alone that this must do:
For Death thou art a Mower too.
Well, she reflected, Life is too short for meadow
management. I think we will just pave it over again
and get some pots with pelargoniums. I’ll go to the
Garden Centre after I’ve been to the chemist’s.
And she decided that Alan Bates had, after all,
been more satisfactory.
BIrnam Wood, Browning, Dickens, Dunsinane, Gove, Hamelin, Human Rights, in absentia, mojo, Moselle, Musicians of Bremen, Narrative Verse, Pied Piper, Poldark, radon, Riesling, Rip Van Winkle, Schlachte Embankment, Scrooge, scything, St Birinus Middle School, Va-va-voom, Weser
Mr Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle, opened the parental
letter which he had insisted should be sent.
Mum will send you an e-mail, sir, Peregrine Willcox Junior had simpered.
Paper notification is what I require, child, Snod underlined. I don’t trust
new-fangled technology for record-keeping.
Blimey! thought Peregrine-or something to that effect.
And so it was that a letter, curiously addressed in childish,
round cursive script, landed on the form desk. There was no
accompanying apple, with, or without a resident worm.
Once the bell had rung and the boys had filed out to Assembly,
Snod took a closer look. You will have detected a reckless dismissal
of his need to attend such ritualistic gatherings.
At least the missive did not terminate in the infamous:
So… Mrs W was in the travel business. Might be good for an upgrade.
He had heard of teachers who had taught boys who had become pilots.
Such students frequently proved to be good contacts when a favour was
required from the airlines. He was short on such sources of beneficence.
But, no-this mother was complaining about the Gove effect. She could not
comprehend why she could not take her offspring on holiday during
Nothing much gets done in the last couple of weeks, she observed.
In your opinion, thought Snod, but in the case of your bratlet, nothing
much gets done all term.
Mrs W went on to recognise that she could face a fine of £60 per day.
She made the point that she would be saving that amount (and more)
by travelling off-peak. She did not fear the Birnam Wood of prosecution,
nor the Dunsinane of incarceration. She seemed to fear no man of woman
Aha! reflected Snod. Never underestimate the power of metaphor. A wood
did come towards Dunsinane!
He anticipated the appeal to Human Rights and was not disappointed.
She quoted the CEO of a Cornish tourist board who advocated family
enrichment weeks. Cornwall- that was where that wretched Milford-Haven
hailed from. The Junior Master didn’t seem to have been enriched by his
upbringing down that neck of the woods. Perhaps it was the radon that
had affected him.
This woman seemed to think that Snod should turn up to teach whether
her child was in absentia or not. She suggested that staggering the school
holidays might be a good idea.
I would be the one who would be staggering, fumed Snod. I’m practically
a stretcher case by the end of June as it is. When am I expected to re-
charge my batteries? I will not utilise the ghastly phrases about losing my
mojo, or va-va-voom. I just need to vamoose. Preferably for eight weeks.
This out-dated long summer break is tied to our agrarian past, continued Mrs
W. It might have made sense when children were needed to bring in the
harvest. Things have moved on.
I wouldn’t agree with you there, Snod scowled, though mollified that she
had used a Latin based adjective. The only interest the children of today
have in land management is an unhealthy curiosity in scything, as
demonstrated in Poldark. It would do them a lot of good to bring in the
hay, whether the sun shone, or not.
He suddenly remembered how he had assisted the groundsman in his
school holidays, when no one had collected him and he had not been
invited home with any chums. He had felt abandoned like the youthful
Scrooge in Dickens’ heart-rending tale.
The summer holidays had stretched out forever. How bitter some of his
experiences had been back then.
Suddenly he felt quite benign. A snatch of that awful song from a
Disney film came to his mind. Let it go! It will be one fewer ink
exercise to mark. He, or she, who pays the piper calls the tune. And,
yes, Mrs W pays the school fees, whether her son attends or not. It is
just a pity that a greater proportion of that payment doesn’t filter down
to the rats who, as in my case, are contemplating leaving the sinking
ship of Education anyway.
And was he a piper then? He had no intention of leading his students
into a Rip van Winkle cavern. Maybe he did induce sleep in some, especially
on a Monday morning. That would be his drone. Piper…drone! Puns had
always amused him.
No, the boy could go. What did he care?
Felicitously, Snod didn’t have to worry about what to teach in Period
The woman had jolted his memory of how successful a source
Browning’s poem could be. Now where was that copy of Narrative Verse
through the Ages?
Maybe his tolerance and compliance might be good for an upgrade after
all. Hamelin– he didn’t think he had been there. Maybe he and Virginia
could take a river cruise down the Weser? He wondered if that might tie in
with the consumption of some fine German wines. He would ask Mrs W for
No problem, Mr Snodbury. We can arrange a Hanseatic cruise for you with
a two day Schlachte Embankment break. Tell you what- we will throw in a
complimentary Musicians of Bremen beer garden experience at no extra
charge, in view of all that you have done for Peregrine since last year.
It wasn’t exactly Moselle and Riesling, but at least that was some of
the school hols sorted.