John Boothroyd-Smythe took his half term envelope out of his
rucksack and gave it to his mother. This was a miracle in itself.
Usually it would fester among his rugby socks for weeks on end,
until his mother suddenly realised that she was deficient in some
vital piece of information for the following weeks. Then she would
launch a search party to discover the whereabouts of the said
missive, which, by then, had semi-biodegraded.
A red slip fell out of the envelope. She picked it up and
expostulated: They’ve got another think coming!
The piece of paper was headed: En Retard! She was being fined
ten pounds as she had seemingly been late on at least three
occasions in the previous half term. Late in picking John up
in the afternoons.
They must have got the idea from that school in the news…what was
it? Oh yes- Henley Green in Coventry.
Don’t pay it, mum, her delinquent son advised. Who shopped you-
Mr Milford-Haven? He has to wait till every boy has been collected
from the yard.
Yes, that snivelling Junior Master, apparently. That is his signature
on the form, is it not? They’re probably trying to raise money for a
cushy new armchair in the staffroom – one into which they can sink
at the end of a particularly hard day while we parents battle through
the rush hour traffic to pick up the children that subsidise their lotos-
John concurred. He didn’t know what lotos-eating was, but it
reminded him that he was hungry.
Well, I’m going to complain to his line manager…
John looked blank.
Mr Snodbury. He is sure to support me in this infringement
of human decency.
John was not so confident.
Well, the old duffer is behind the times himself. But, leave it till
tomorrow, mum. What’s for tea?
Three times. When? How had it happened?
There was the Tuesday when she had had a puncture after hitting
that pothole and she had had to wait ages for the Roadside Rescue
chap. But when else?
Oh, she remembered that she had got her shoulders stuck in a dress
that she had been trying on and had had to solicit assistance from
one of the salesgirls. She was embarrassed as she had only had her
second best bra on.
But when was the third time?
Ah. She had been delayed when she had been stopped for
doing thirty-five mph in a thirty zone and had had to agree to go
on a speed awareness course, or take points on her licence. She
was being punished twice.
Mr Snodbury picked up the phone in the office of The Head’s PA, Virginia
Who is it? he mouthed to the silk-stockinged one.
That dreadful Boothroyd-Smythe woman, Virginia whispered.
Well, Mrs Boothroyd-Smythe, as my own venerable Housemaster
used to say: ‘Life isn’t fair’. In fact, Mr Quentin Stickland, or ‘Stickler’
as we were wont to call him, did once address me on the matter of
timekeeping, in my days of callow youthdom. He looked pointedly
at his pocket watch and reminded me that punctuality was- and indeed
is- the politeness of princes. And once, when I was thirty seconds late
for hymn practice, he admonished me with his personal recollection that
he had never been tardy, even throughout The General Strike of 1926,
so he could not comprehend my problem.
Gisela knew that she was on a losing wicket.
But Snod was in full reminiscence mode now. You know, that dear old
boy was in Registration before 9am every morning, for forty-five years.
The only occasion that he didn’t quite make it was when he collapsed
outside the Form Room at 8:59 am and breathed his last.
That was when the hour hand on the school clock-tower froze, in 1962.
So, you see, Mrs Boothroyd-Smythe, your contribution, along with those
garnered from the-ah-less punctilious parents, will go some way to the
restoration of the clock, in his honour.
Who knows? I may even have the privilege to honour his memory once
again, as I did at his first Memorial service when I recited a bowdlerised
and truncated version of his favourite poem by Marvell. The lines about
hearing at one’s back the wings of Times’ chariot seem especially apt in
these days of casual dilatory behaviour…
But there was no back-channelled response. At his back, Snod could only
hear the buzz of the dialling tone.
Gisela would pay up. She just didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to