Attila the Hun, Bonnard, causality, context sensitivity, Copernican mediocrity, Genghis Khan, infant sauvant, IQ score, irritable bowel syndrome, laws of thermodynamics, Marthe, Pilate, reflexive verb, Sods' Law, William the Conqueror
(Tete de Bonnard)
Augustus Snodbury, Senior Master at St Birinus Middle School peered
into his fogged up shaving mirror in the manner of Bonnard, but sans
le Maitre’s obsession with la salle de bain. Was it just the bain– or the
He drew his razor across his chin.
Merde! Marthe. Strange coincidence that the two words are so similar.
Bien sur, Marthe is a proper noun and merde is …well. merde is… Cela ne
(He only swore in foreign languages- usually of the moribund variety.
Mehercule! was another well-favoured expletive…)
It was Sod’s Law that he should nick himself just before Parents’ Evening.
Au contraire- it was, en effet, Snod’s Law- absolument typique.
There seemed to be some underlying thermodynamic law which ensured
that every literal slice of toast that he would ever drop in his allotted
threescore years and – hopefully plus- would land sunny side down on the
fluffy lino of his kitchenette.
Once he had tried to fathom out the underlying principle, but he had grown
exasperated by the philosophical discussions re/ context sensitivity and
causality. He usually just scraped the spread off and hoped for the best.
If the odious mater of the dreaded Boothroyd-Smythe boy should smell
blood, she would, no doubt, be after his teacher like a pack leader at a
drag hunt. She would want to ‘discuss’ her infant sauvage/ sauvant’s
penultimate ink exercise-at length.
Each parent/ guardian had been given a four minute and forty nine
seconds’ window of opportunity. There were others to be seen-and heard-
so Snod had planned his personal defenestration technique, which
involved a pre-set travelling alarm clock. The previous time he had tried
to utilise the device, it had been confiscated by the school caretaker, who
said it might be mistaken for an incendiary device.
I mean-mehercule!- Snod had remonstrated- do I look like a terrorist, man?
The caretaker had not ventured an opinion, other than to reinforce that
it was against ‘Elf and Safety.
Snod wiped the condensation away with his pyjama sleeve and applied
pressure to the little bleeder (not the caretaker, you understand. We are
back in the privacy of the lavatory.) However, the flow was not to be
easily stemmed. Neither would Mrs B-S ( ‘Irritable Bowel- Syndrome’ was
how he thought of her)…neither would the aforesaid indignant parent
tolerate any hypothetical exploration of her son’s behaviour. She also
was difficult to staunch. Snod wondered if her ex-husband had found
the same difficulty in dealing with her when she was in full spout.
Counter factuals interested her as little as the laws of thermodynamics,
or grammar, for that matter, he considered.
Well, we are living in an age where no one cares about the subjunctive, he
mused, so why would anyone contemplate the ‘what ifs’, or the hypothetical
Who do you think you are, Mr Snodbury? she had written in a note delivered
to his poste restante, ergo his pigeonhole in the staff-room. How could you
give my gifted son such a discouraging assessment when he has an IQ of
160, which is, no doubt, sixty points above most of the masters’ scores in this
He could predict that she would bang on about some theory of Copernican
mediocrity, ad tedium.
But the initial interrogative got beneath his skin, just as his rasoir had.
After some meditation, he considered that her opening gambit was not
so much a rhetorical question, but rather, a declaration of war.
He stuck a shred of toilet paper over the wound. But maybe she had a
Who am I? he asked himself, while recognising the reflexive modal aspect
of the verb. ( I don’t mean the verb ‘to be‘; I refer to his self-examination.)
He had never felt the need of a gap year, to go off and find himself, but a
sabbatical would have been nice.
That genealogy programme was popular, he knew: the one where
celebrities discovered that their direct lines went all the way back to
William the Conqueror.
Whose didn’t? he thought. We are all five handshakes from…whom? Am I
really descended from Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun, as the boys suspect?
Well, so long as I am not related to Boris Johnson, in spite of our shared
love of the Classics!
He had always felt that he was the terminal bud on a twig which had been
grafted onto someone else’s native tree.
Maybe he should exhibit some natural curiosity and find out the truth of
his generation- etymologically-speaking.
Whatever truth is, as Pilate once so eloquently said, he mused aloud.
It seems to have stopped haemorrhaging now. I can’t be haemophiliac, so
my blood-line can’t be true blue.