Balaam, Birinus, Bradford on Avon, compassion, Damascene, David Cameron, epiphany, Feast of the Transfiguration, Financial Times, Fleury Abbey, lax, Loiret, Paul Gilbert, Snodbury, St Paul, Sully sur Loire, The Carpenters, The Longs Arms, The Shrink and The Sage, Weekend Magazine
Diana Fotheringay-Syylk, prematurely retired ‘Lax‘ Mistress from St Vitus’ School
For The Academically-Gifted Girl, had been trying to read The Weekend
Magazine from The Financial Times while she was being transported around the
Loiret by her local coach firm from Bradford-on-Avon. She was staying in a 2*
hotel near Sully-sur-Loire, along with other members of her town’s Twinning
She had been allowed to bring along a ‘friend‘ and her daughter, since two
people had dropped out at the last minute and there had been seats left
Behind Diana was her erstwhile lover, Augustus Snodbury, who was still in
educational harness, so to speak, at St Birinus Middle School. Their daughter
Drusilla had closed her eyes, but this did not shut out the low, burring sound
which emanated from her father’s rather hairy nostrils.
And what exactly is a Lax Mistress? I hear you question, Dear Reader.
It was a trainer for a particularly vicious outdoor team game played by
innocent-looking maidens, armed with strong lobster nets on poles.
Innocent-looking, in general, but the goalies were of a different, scary
Diana was trying to concentrate on her favourite The Shrink and the
This guide to modern dilemmas by a psychotherapist and philosopher
duo fascinated her. Diana was looking forward to being a member of the
congregation at The Feast of the Transfiguration in Fleury Abbey and the
rhetorical question which headed the columns struck her with a force as
convincing as the Damascene beam of light which had struck St Paul and
It read: Are we compassionate enough?
Diana had been seeking a spiritually significant experience by venturing
on this trip. Nothing less than an epiphany would satisfy her. She had
opened her mind and heart to receive any messages that might be
forthcoming. But could the divine voice speak through The Financial
Times? She then remembered Balaam’s ass and thought that all things
might be possible.
A psychologist called Paul Gilbert was being quoted as having stressed that
one must be kind to oneself, as well as to others. He warned against two
evolution-shaped drives-firstly, the detection and subsequent escape from
danger and, secondly, the drive to acquire things we want, such as food
and sexual partners.
The article recommended a David Cameron-like state of sensing that we are
all..on this journey together.
Here Snod’s snoring seemed to rise in volume and objection. Already she
was in danger of lapsing into compassion fatigue.
When we are irritated by others, Gilbert said, we should remember that
they are mere humans, like ourselves, who cannot help getting things
But she didn’t snore, did she? She would check with Drusilla later on,
since they were sharing a room. Come to think of it, she remembered Dru
buying some ear plugs in Boots, before they set off.
Gilbert mentioned something called compassion under the duvet, which
fortunately was only a practice of reminding ourselves to be kind to others
before we climbed out of bed in the morning.
Suddenly, the scales fell from Diana’s eyes and she realised that she could
now forgive Gus for his appalling ineptitude, if not for his snoring.
He had been clumsy at their attempted reunion at The Longs Arms, but maybe
it had been down to nerves and possibly they could travel hopefully together
and arrive at the same destination one day- so long as it did not involve any
sharing of duvets, other than of the moral variety.
The Sage explained the etymology of the abstract noun, compassion. It came
from com and pati, meaning to suffer together.
Having both taught for a number of years, they could empathise with each
others’ pain. She determined to avail herself of any lessons that she might
be offered during the service, but she could sense that her transformation
had only just begun. Pity that it sounded like a song from The Carpenters.
Augustus Snodbury, avocado bathroom suite, Bradford on Avon, Carmen, Drusilla, Katherine Jenkins, Kathleen Ferrier, Monteverdi, Nigel, Panama, papier mache, Shanks, Sully sur Loire, Toreador song, UVA, UVB
Nigel Milford-Haven sighed as he painted the bathroom ceiling of his mother’s
Cornish bungalow. He supposed that White With a Hint of Asparagus
complemented her Seventies avocado bath ensemble. Probably retro lovers
would die for a suite like that, but he preferred a clean white Shanks.
Sweat was dripping into his eyes as he used the roller, so he had utilised
the battered Panama which Augustus Snodbury had carelessly left behind
at the seemingly interminable Monteverdi concert he had attended the
Nigel intended to produce it with a flourish to the ageing schoolmaster on
their return to St Birinus Middle School at the start of term, but now he had
managed to decorate it with a few paint drips and he wasn’t sure whether
turps would remove them, or would turn the whole item of headgear into a
sort of mushy papier mache mould, redolent of some rare rainforest bird’s
His wretched mother came in from time to time to inspect the progress. She
gave him a running commentary on how well other members of their family
were doing and subjected him to lengthy panegyrics concerning the academic
success of his nieces and nephews. He counted the seconds until she would
commence on her eternal theme as to why he did not have a girlfriend.
This focussed his thoughts on Drusilla. He wondered if she was
experiencing a similar trial, in that she had been burdened with two parents
this summer. Would Snod still be hanging around, or would he have moved
on? Not in any transcendental fashion, he corrected himself. For indeed, Mr
Augustus Snodbury had never been concerned by the vagaries of style and
la mode. Some men would sport a Panama with a degree of loucheness,
affecting the pose of a lounge lizard who finds himself inadvertently thrust
like a mad dog into the midday sun. But Gus merely donned his particular
straw hat as a shade against contracting any of these nasty scabs which
seemed to irritate his pate and which his GP said were caused by too much
exposure to UVB rays- or was it UVA? In any case, he wasn’t taking the risk.
Nigel climbed down the ladder, anticipating a cup of tea. As he stepped off the
final rung, he noticed that the post had arrived and stooped to pick up one or
two letters-mostly junk mail. To his surprise, he recognised the handwriting of
the school secretary, who had re-directed a postcard which had been
addressed to him. His heart leapt when he saw that it was from Drusilla. It
featured a chateau- Sully-sur-Loire- and in French was printed the phrase:
Jumelee Avec Bradford-on-Avon, which might explain why they were there.
Having a wonderful time and the parents both in good form. Something to do
with the house wines?!
Unfortunately Daddy- (!)-has had some sort of sunstroke, so wondered if you
could retrieve his favourite hat and bring it back to school? He was so
absorbed in the lovely music that he left it on his seat at the interval and,
as you know, we had to rush off as we had left something in the oven.
Thank you so much,
Hmm, analysed Nigel. No ‘wish you were here’.
Then he took off the hat and panicked. How could he return it in that state?
I told you to wear my shower cap, Nige. Oh, who sent you the postcard?
I do hope it is from a girlfriend..and his mother handed him a china mug, while
simultaneously inspecting his day’s oeuvre.
I doubt it, said Nigel ruefully. How all things do conspire against me.
Nonsense, retorted his mother. It’s just a matter of making a bit more effort.
That’s what your school reports always used to say, didn’t they? You just
need to get out and about a bit more. I’ve got us two tickets for that opera
you were banging on about. You might meet a nice girl like that Katherine
What-Carmen? Nigel was really surprised. But I’ve got nothing to wear!
He wasn’t entirely sure that Katherine Jenkins was all that his mother
supposed. Sometimes the mater was not such a good judge of character
as she thought. Probably she was getting the singer mixed up with
Kathleen Ferrier. More her era.
As to character analysis, Snod usually nailed a miscreant in one damning
Nigel tried to rein in his wandering thoughts.
You can wear your father’s linen jacket. It was a bit crumpled when you
brought it down from the attic in that old suitcase I asked you to carry, but I
ironed it and the smell of mothballs is not too bad now that I’ve aired it. You
can throw that old thing out, she said, snatching the flattened mess on his
head and putting it in the kitchen bin. Dismissing his protestation, as if it
was an irritating boy who had finished a rather late detention, she added:
There’s a practically unused hat of your father’s, identical to that one, in the
black sack. I was going to give it to the charity shop, but you might as well
And no one was more surprised than Mrs Milford-Haven when her somewhat
reserved son hugged her and danced her round the ladder, humming the