Botham, Corn laws, Curricular Development, Dotheboys Hall, Ed Balls, Farage, Gracchi, guillotine, Jethro Tull, La Vache Qui Rit, Monster Raving Loony Party, National Service number, Nick Clegg, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Hawthorne, O tempora O mores!, Populares, Radio 4, seed drill, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, Wisden
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus’ Middle School,
wandered into the corner of the staffroom that was designated
the staff ‘kitchen’. It was there that he usually prepared his
solitary breakfast, while the more diligent members of his profession
were singing tunelessly at Assembly.
He opened the fridge. There was the usual array of plastic tubs
brought in by female members of staff, containing strange salads
and supermarket sushi. He was looking for milk. Nothing weird and
wonderful, such as the rice, soya or coconut variety, but something
white that had drained out of an udder in some English rural hamlet.
He was just about to place a third Shredded Wheat into his personal
cereal bowl with its calligraphic flourish: Dotheboys Hall, when he heard
the voice of his conscience- ie/ the dulcet tones of Virginia Fisher-Giles,
School Secretary and personal PA to the new Headmaster:
Two would be lovely, but three would be too much.
Now that seemed familiar.
Of course, that was exactly the sentiment he felt regarding school
terms. After the Moveable Feast, it used to be all downhill: sitting under
a Sycamore tree with a couple of scholarship acolytes, ‘analysing’ poetry,
while actually studying Wisden; coaching the Junior Team on a Wednesday
afternoon to the mellow thwack of willow on leather. The most strenuous
activity might have been manning the bottle stall at the school fete…
Ah, now he remembered. It was Botham who had appeared on that
advertisement for Shredded Wheat. A big, beefy guy like him was a good
endorser of the product. Snod felt that personally he had more in common
with Nigel Hawthorne, who had also recommended the carbohydrate-ridden
wheaten rectangles, in a scholarly capacity on one of the other memorable
promotions. No doubt the health freaks on the staff would blame his madness
and purple urination- Nigel’s (not his) on the evils of gluten.
This wretched newcomer of a Headmaster had Ideas. Snod sensed the danger
of that approach. When the children were finished with their summer exams
and were on school trips, that was usually the time for the Senior Masters to
take a little well-earned snooze in the somewhat lumpy chintz armchairs in
the Senior Masters’ Common Room. Some had even been known to smoke a
pipe, or study racing tips. Not now. Oh no! Not now.
More meetings had been arranged on the school calendar. Curricular
Development, they called it. More ****** worksheets to be prepared
for the following year.
Snod had never used a worksheet in his entire career. He was a chalk
and talk man and somehow vital information had been driven into the
resistant skulls of his protegees as effectively and ruthlessly as if it
had been planted there by Jethro Tull’s innovative seed drill.
It was all too much. No rest for the wicked.
He pressed the Weetabixes flat with the back of a spoon which still had
someone’s National Service number engraved on its bowl. He managed
to squash the third pillow-shaped nibble down, before dowsing it in
white sugar and then drowning it in full-fat Gold Top.
Nigel Milford-Haven breezed in singing ‘O what a Beautiful Morning!
Assembly had ended a few minutes early as Mr Poskett had played
the recessional molto allegro.
Snod gave him one of those looks which he had perfected over the
decades, which was wont to silence the most ebullient pupil.
Not feeling so good, sir? Nigel was complicit with the mythic alibi that
all absentee and truanting Senior Masters employed, should their
absence be noted.
Snod stepped aside with a heavy deliberation that would have
characterised one of the heavier dinosaurs. Nigel opened the fridge
and took out some rice milk.
So, it was his after all. ******typical! Gus inwardly commented. ‘Milksop‘
came to his mind. However, he tried to dismiss that term as he knew that
Nigel might end up as his son-in-law. O tempora! O mores! That
unsweetened muesli rubbish was his too, it seemed.
The election will soon be upon us, Nigel pressed on, ignoring Snod’s
reticence. Nick Clegg’s on a diet.
I suppose he doesn’t want anyone asking: Does he take sugar? (Snod
was referring to a Radio 4 programme from the past. He laughed at
his own joke. He always did.)
An annoying habit, thought Nigel daringly.
Well, the Junior Master continued, the boys are setting up some
hustings and we will need to borrow the staffroom guillotine to cut the
ballot papers. We have created various parties for them to feel affiliated
to and they are electing representatives. John Boothroyd- Smythe is
wearing a rosette which represents The Monster Raving Loony Party.
Who will you vote for, sir?
The Populares Party. He sprayed Nigel with some cereal.
The Popular Party? Not like you, sir. Is that Farage and Co?
No, that sounds more like you. Same name for a start. I refer to the
party whose principles the Gracchi supported. Whoever controlled the
grain supply held control over the city of Rome. Grain collected as
revenue would be sold at a subsidised rate. Like keeping the price of
Weetabix reasonably low so that a working man could have three,
should he so desire. And I do.
Oh, I see. Politics has always been about Corn Laws and public ire has
always been aroused if the -I was going to say ‘plebs’- Can I say ‘plebs’?-
Nigel appealed to the Senior Master for clarification and permission-
if…if the people have to eat brioche, or whatever they were offered
instead of bread.
Something like that, muttered Snod. And don’t let that Boothroyd child
stir up insurrection. Tell him from me that there is still a guillotine in the
staffroom and I won’t be using it for trimming flyers.
And what do you think of Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Snodbury? asked the new
French mistress, provocatively. She reached into the fridge and took out
a Vache Qui Rit to unpeel at break, which she took in the Modern
Languages base room. That department always kept themselves to
Snod looked pertinently at the red disc in her hand. No laughing matter,
he opined and, bolting the last fibrous spoonful, he dumped the un-rinsed
bowl in the staff sink and headed for his first lesson, which he was
preparing even as he walked the length of the corridor.
‘Slow burn‘ was something Ed Balls had worryingly claimed to be a master of,
but three Weetabix was truly the slow energy release that all in authority
needed to perform their challenging roles, whether that be PM, or plain
Senior Master. And, as for third terms- yes, they should be abolished.
Snod would certainly make his mark against that one.