Sean had not met the headmaster when he had come for interview a few months earlier. The head had been away at the time. He was not invited to meet the head one on one. At the appointed hour Sean arrived at the headmaster’s office.
Sean wore a grey pin striped suit with black lace-ups. He wore a pink shirt and a blue silk tie. His hair was not brushed – as ever. It hung down past his eyebrows.
He sat in the head’s secretary’s office for a moment.
”He is with someone. He shall be free in a minute” said his secretary in a gentle Yorkshire accent. This skinny middle aged woman had a light brown bob and wore a demure black trouser suit offset by a vermilion blouse. She was capable and much more approachable than most headmaster’s secretaries. They tend to be a ferocious species.
In a minute another teacher filed out of the office looking pleased.
”Knock on the door and go in now” the secretary whispered.
”Ok then” said Sean feeling a touch self-conscious. He knocked on the door and walked in.
It was a very modern first floor office overlooking the front of the school. Windows behind the desk commanded a magnificent vista over the mile wide valley and the wild hills beyond.
There was a sofa to the side. The desk was at the far end. The head was wearing his black habit and was sat behind it with piles in paper in front of him. He was so tiny that his ashen face was hardly visible over the sheafs of paper.
”Hello Sean” he said meekly and stood up. Sean strode forward to meet him.
The headmaster was a little monk whose face indicated that he was nervous and timid. He was physically unprepossessing but his personality was more so.
”Good morning Father Michael” said Sean. He then shook the headmaster’s hand. The head was a mouse of a man. He was 5’4” but suffered no small man syndrome. He was far less impressive than that. His voice scarcely rose above a whisper. This black spikey hair was lined with silver. His pale skin looked permanently sweaty and unhealthy. Though this man was distinctly lacking in machismo he always had five o clock shadow. His misshapen face seemed as though it had not been finetuned in the womb. His dark little eyes were behind thin rimmed glasses. He was an unprepossessing figure.
Sean sat down as the head indicated.
”Well … ah…. welcome to the… school” said Fr Michael as though struggling for the words. ”We are ur …. glad to… um … have you… er …. here.” He spoke without punctuation.
”Thank you Father I am pleased to be here.”
”So you… are in… um … an …excellent…er… department. I used to teach History too. Then I …er… became a ..er… housemaster..er… and had to..er…. cut down..er… my workload. I became head …er… two and a half years ago.”
Two and a HALF years ago? A head was got rid of in the middle of the school year? Must be a worthwhile story to that, Sean thought. Got to get after that one. He also noticed that Fr Michael had struggled to call the department excellent. Was this a speech hesitation that the monk was grappling with?
Fr Michael seemed the anxious one. It was as though he was being interviewed.
”Now one…um… can feel like something of a ….er… prisoner in the … valley. Even a monk… needs to… get out … just…er…. occasionally.”
Did the man have a speech impediment? This man was not a natural leader. His susurations continued. The man was painfully diffident.
Sean noticed that Fr Michael hugely over-emphasised the ‘S’ sound.
”Ssso it is niCcce that SSSo many people SSSeem SSSatiSSSfied with catholiCCCiSSSm here.”
This staccato and hissing delivery would hardly go down well with a large audience. The man had missed public speaking lesson number one.
”Yes, I see.” The conversation continued in that vain. Michael was a deeply shy man. WHy on earth was the head? He was a decent sort but patently not cut out for any sort of management role. Fr Michael was the most monkish monk of all. No presence at all. He could be dominated by a toddler. He surely had greatness thrust upon him. Anything but your stereotypical headmaster. He was very much reserved. This was a role for a person who was unashamedly extrovert. Fr Michael did not exude self-assurance much less exuberance. Who would repose confidence in someone who did not believe in himself? He was as uninspirational as it was possible to be.
Murphy held a department meeting. They all met in Murphy’s classroom.
Sean was one of the first there. The classroom was perhaps 20 m by 20 m. Posters of the Third Reich lined the walls. There was a crucifix on the wall by the white board.
There was a teacher’s desk with a computer in the corner. The desk tops were made from brown formica and were in a C shape around the classroom. A small door led to Murphy’s little office. They muttered waiting till Murphy said his piece. Hugo Codd was saying, ”Glad they moved my lot to a new house. We used to be in a total shit hole. It is a fucking relief. The old headmaster was an absolute bastard. ”
Sean was stunned that Codd was so foul mouthed. Perhaps things would not be as straitlaced in actuality as he had anticipated. Codd was also a gargoyle to look at. Having been heckled by life with that vicious face he then spat out expletives at the world. Hugo Codd was a London whose cods no doubt knew the seedier side of Soho. How else could so ugly a cunt get a shag?
It seemed they were intrigue going on.
They all sat down and then Murphy introduced them.
”Morning everyone”, he said in his flat voice – sniffling. ”Like to introduce Sean who is new to the department.”
”hello”, said Sean forcing himself to smile – this produced a laconic response.
”So let me introduce everyone” Murphy twisted his mouth to the right as he pursed his lips.
There was Ray Ryan. He was 26 – same age as Sean. He was 5’10” and had black hair. An English born Irishman with a rubicund manner. Added to his Hibernian colouration was a priestly face and a fierce intelligence. Ray was a wraithlike figure. He was the only decent one there.
Jim Thorough was a spikey haired Yorkshireman. He was drastically gaunt but this did not make him come across as mean. He wore PE clothes as he taught PE most of the time. A PE man loaned to History – it was not a heartening sign. He was tidy and sprightly – not a bad chap. Sean had little to do with him.
Hugo Codd had teeth that would allow him to eat corn on the cob through a tennis racket. Well he could save on dental floss. His big bug eyes were barely reduced by his glasses. He had dark blond hair and was around the half century mark. He dressed in a rather county style and was very up himself. His shoes were brightly polished. He seemed to cultivate as unexotic an aura as he could. There was something unflappable about him. He would need to be since running a house was never easy.
Dana Cavanagh was a Scotswoman who plainly had Irish ancestry. She mispronounced things a lot and that was not due to her accent. She had a fake tan and a round face. A moustache was also visible. Her huge arse was somehow not appealing. When she lent over the tattoo on her lower back revealed her for the chav she was. She was a childist – always dumbing down and treating everyone like a child. Molly coddling, goody two shoes, over planning, oh so prissy and a total sneak. She was forever fomenting reasons for Murphy to be irate with Sean. Her love-in with Murphy was so noisome as to have Sean retching.
Augustine Sheffield was there. He was a 6’4” blond monk. Father Augustine wore bottle end glasses and had a gentle manner. Sean was soon to discover that this man’s genial exterior hid a duplicitious nature. Augustine did not do confrontation. He would never be honest enough to stab a man in the front. The grandson of an Anglican bishop he had converted to Catholicism. He was forever rabbiting on about women he wanted to fuck. His unreliability would soon become apparent. This did not deprive him of sanctimoniousness. Fr Augustine was urbane for a monk. Sean could imagine him ghosting an ambassador’s memoirs.
Murphy launched into a tirade about how important the department was – the most respected one in the country. Sean thought it would be refreshing if someone for once said their department was average or even shite.
”The parents are paying 30 000 pounds a year. That is 10 000 per A level. You all know that. It is not rocket science. ”
Sean was not convinced by this specious reasoning. It was to the first of many such illogical concoctions.
Murphy then said how documentation was crucial. Sean was finding this nerve racking already. Miss Cavanagh looked gleeful at the mention of paperwork.
”All subjects are complementary. We teach the Reformation as part of the school’s mission. We co ordinate with English. We teach the First World War as they teach the poetry thereof” he hissed. ”Soon we will be setted against Geography in year 9. People will have to pick us or them. It is not rocket science. So you have to give high grades or they will give up. It will have an affect on staff numbers.”
Sean could not help by smirking at that blatant threat. What about telling the truth? If someone is shite at History but brilliant at Geography which should she do? Should grades not reflect this? What about the well being of the pupils? So self centred. But oh no Murphy wanted them to do History even if that was the wrong choice. Just for his own sake. Fuck their future. He had better not speak his mind. A flaming row right now would not work wonders for his career. Bite your tongue. It was something he would have to get used to. It seemed like a farce.
Murphy noticed Sean’s irreverent indeed unauthorised smile.
”You may smile but…”
I may smile? May I? Thank you for permission kind sir. Next time I shall apply to permission smile in triplicate a week in advance.
”You may smile but we have to do our best not to let Geography overtake us.”
The other nodded in assent.
”Policy is formulated in light of curricular developments. We are up to speed with the latest business best practise”. What bullshit thought Sean. Murphy continued his monologue. ”So we believe in blue skies thinking. We try to keep this a paperless environment among the department. You all know I have an open door policy. I may have to sunset some ideas. We are in lockstep on the teaching. I absolutely insist that you do everything the way I order down to the finest detail. Occasionally I may throw in a thought grenade. But remember a pyramidal management structure is so outdated. A collegial pedagogy is most desirable. One of you may occasionally deputise for me. I insist that all allotted tasks are performed punctually according to protocol.”
The others nodded sagely at these apparent profundities. Murphy sniffled once a sentence.
What did this management consultant goobledegook mean? It was an emperor’s new clothes syndrome. No one was willing to jeopardise his career by saying that Murphy was spouting utter shite. Their reverence for such babble troubled Sean. He sensed that Ryan was perhaps of the same mind as him but too canny to let on.
Murphy was oddly capricious and indecisive in view of his control freakery. He had changed his mind about one of the courses that Sean would teach at the last minute. As for another he vacillated till just before term started before making his mind up.
The pupils were back. It was 5 September. Sean had been assigned to St Olaf’s House. As it happened Father Augustine was housemaster. Sean arrived at the house for the new boy’s tea party. He knocked on the door of Fr Augustine’s study. Augustine greeted him cordially. He was good at getting to know people so he decided to tell Sean a bit about himself. Fr Augustine spoke in his trademark gentle manner, ”I went to that place St Paul’s. We did not have boarding. But anyway I have been here 15 years so this whole boarding lark is not new to me.”
Sean went along to the new boy’s tea party. He remembered attending one a dozen years earlier. He got himself a cup of cha and a crumpet. A middle aged man breezed up to him ”Which one is your boy?”
”I don”t have children. I am far too young” he chortled.
The new boys were all white and mostly nondescript. The sort of bland mass of tweed jackets, Oxford brogues, mid brown hair lovingly blushed by a tearful mother and diffidence. The school did not have uniform – they had to wear a jacket and tie. These were the sorts who people public school. Sean scanned the anxious and beardless faces. Only one stood out on the first day.
”Hello sir” said a boy who was tall and chubby for a 13 year old ”My name is Wilfred Ogg”
”Well – pleased to meet you. I am Mr Gallagher” Sean was fainting surprised by the boy’s unashamedly forward manner. Pupils are normally painfully diffident on such a day. At his new boy’s tea party Sean had been decorously deferential.
”I see. So you are a tutor in this house. What do you teach?”
”I teach History.”
”Oh good that is my favourite subject and I was the best in my prep school at it.”
”Fabulous. We shall get on famously. Which prepper did you go to?”
”I attended Aysgarth.”
”Ah yes I have heard of that one. The premier prep school of northern England.”
Wilfred Ogg had mid brown curls and pallid skin. He was forward and jaunty. Though stuck up it seemed that he would be among the more amiable of the new boys.
Sean was assigned a tutor group from St Olaf’s House; Lower Sixth boys.
The tutor group gathered in Sean’s classroom for him to meet them for the first time. They all sat down and he asked them to introduce themselves.
”Hello my name is Magnus Armistead” said a slight boy with a custard blond hair cut in a pudding bowl style and ultra pale skin. His persona was equally pallid. He was a milquetoast with a very bland voice. ”Yeah and I am from Scotland” he said in a pukka accent. ”And I kind of like it here. Coz it is kind of nice. Yeah. Kinda. So I am here coz dad says we are Catholic or something like that.”. There was something very vapid about him. Magnus: the name meant ”great”. It was as though Fate was blowing a massive raspberry on him by allotting him a name that was the most inapt of all.
”I see Magnus and what A Levels are you doing?”
”Well I am doing English. I think? Yeah, English. Maybe English yeah because I really like words. Lots of them. Different words.”
”So you like reading?”
”Oh no. I hate books.”
”Ah I see. Might be a slight obstacle in English Literature. What other A levels are you doing?”
”Well um… let me see. Some other ones. I can’t really remember. English and um… a couple of others.” he said in his quiet dweeb voice.
”What do you do for fun Magnus?”
”Oh I…. rest.”
Sean had looked at a highly controversial report on the boy and his IQ. His verbal IQ was 98. That is below average. How was this dolt going to tackle a nineteenth century novel when he had a limited vocabulary? This might have been thought an insuperable obstacle to doing English A level but not at this school.
”Thank you Magnus. That was very informative”. Magnus’ blank expression revealed that sarcasm was an alien concept to him. His face indicated that his mind had gone back to standby mode. Sean was not thrilled to have such a deadbeat as a tutor. Sean figured that if Magnus was given plenty of one on one tuition for several years he might eventually aspire to be a janitor. A fine ambition for a boy with a 30 000 pounds a year education. This did not prefigure a stimulating time tutoring this dimwit.
”So how about you” Sean said to another boy sitting near the front.
”Hi my name’s Stephen Erwin-Montague”, he piped self-conceitedly. Stephen was slight and 5’6”. He had a thin face and a sharp nose. He had blond and slightly curling hair. He was clearly trying to suck up to the others. His weediness had meant that he learnt guile.
”Well I am a sub prefect because I am popular. I am doing English, Christian Theology, History and Classical Civilisation. I have a Cardinal Bursary because I am an all rounder” he said very self satisfied. He smarmed. ”I am half English half Scots. Dad is in the army. My mum is well my mum. My sister was here. She has left now and she is doing very well so she is at Exeter Uni. I am a Catholic too. We are better people. The Anglicans are plebs . In my free time I like, well, socialising.” He smiled with a punchable self -satisfaction. A Cardinal Bursary for this loathsome prick? It was a travesty. Sean was supposed to treat his pupils well but that would be impossible in this case. Those awarding Cardinal bursaries were supposed to look into a child’s character before awarding one. They had plainly shirked that duty in this case.
”Right. Fascinating. Very revealing.” Stephen was clearly a douche bag. He needed to be taken down a peg or ten but the boy had spirit. Unlike that complete wet tissue called Magnus.
”Now how about you?” Sean continued – ”tell me about yourself.” he addressed another lad.
”My name is Harry Burley-Wookey” he said. The boy was almost 6 foot in height and fairly broad. He had jet black hair – other than that he resembled Sean closely. He had a dramatic and mischievous face. ”I am doing History, English and Drama. I like acting best of all.”
Harry spoke in received pronunciation like the rest of them. ”I am a Geordie but I know I talk posh. Anyway my brother was here but he got expelled.”
”For shagging someone in the woods and then the beagle pack came along into the bit where he was shagging this Paki girl and they got caught” said Stephen. They all burst out laughing. Sean would well imagine Burley Wookey turning out to be a satyromaniac.
Sean thought he should chide them but did not. Harry laughed too he was patently proud of his elder brother’s antics. ”So in my free time I like acting and watching films.”
”Right thank you Harry I think I have the measure of you. Who is next – yes. You please introduce myself.”
”My name is Jamie Tavish” said a boy with black hair and very pale skin. He had brown eyes far back in his head. He was tall and seemed weak physically and even more so mentally.
”I am from Scotland” he said in an upper class accent. ”I am not that clever. I am doing Christian Theology, History and Politics.”
”And Maths GCSE – again! ” shouted Stephen scornfully.
”Stephen – please do not interrupt.”
”Well yeah Maths GCSE did not go my way last time.”
”You mean you failed!” Stephen said scornfully.
”Erwin – Montague that is quite enough. Be quiet” Sean reproved the boy.
”Right so I got to take it again.”
”I see and why do you like Politics.”
”Well because my dad is into it. He is politics like. Um he is a Tory and the Tories is against the Labours. So it is not that easy because in Scotland a lot of people are chavs and they are Labours. So Tories is for our sort of people and Catholics and Labours is against Catholic. We are also against Conversatives.”
”But Jamie – the Tories are the Conservatives.”
”No Conversatives are different.”
”It is Conservative not Conversative. Tory is the nickname of the Conservatives.”
”Is it ? What? I am a Tory. Conversatives is like Labour.”
”I see. I don’t quite agree with your political analysis.”
”Well were are Catholics and we are public school people. Protestants are chavs. So we are more better than them is. In my free time I like up you know just hanging out.”
”I see. Scintillating” Sean hid his horror.
”Now you” said Sean looking at someone else. ”Please tell me a bit a about yourself.”
”My name is Will Stoke. I am from Yorkshire” he said in a very cut glass accent. The boy was 5’4” and weedy. ”My family is a very distinguished family. Our ancestor was an archbishop.”
”An Anglican archbishop then?”
”Excuse me! No, I am a Catholic.” Sean had not the heart to tell the boy that meant his ancestors were conceived the wrong side of the blanket.
Will Stoke carried on; ”Only the plebs are Protestants. To be gentry you must be Catholic. So I am doing History, Maths and CT. I am a Tory like Jamie. I am also into field sports. Bring back field sports. My dad was in the army and now he is a mobile phone executive. So I am going to join the army too and boss some chavs around. In my spare time I like shooting and beagling. ”
This stupid weed be in command of anyone? Sean was beginning to perceive how religion and morality could be poles apart. In this boy;s case they were totally unrelated. His faith was an excuse for Stoke to look down his snout at others. Sean felt his face burning. He was furious with this ineffable shit already.
”Thanks for that. Most illuminating” said Sean
”Now you – please introduce yourself” he said to someone else.
”My name is Joachim Wittelsbach” he said in a slightly Germanic accent ”So I am from Bavaria. And I have been at school in England three years.” He was skinny, tanned and blond about 5’9”. If he had been better built he would have been the perfect Aryan. ”I am doing Maths, Economics and History. I like most sports and that is it.” He was phlegmatic and soft spoken because he was self assured.
”Ah now last but not least please introduce yourself” he said to an Oriental boy.
”Hello my name is Geoffrey” said a small bespectacled Oriental boy.
”Geoffrey trying to be British” said Stephen in a mock Chinese accent – narrowing his eyes, pulling them slanted with his fingers and putting his teeth over his upper lip. ”I China boy!” Geoffrey was evidently well accustomed to such vile racial epithets and took it with a Confucian calm.
”Erwin – Montague – stop that. SHut up. I will not have racism in here” Sean flashed with anger.
”So I am front Hong Kong. I have been here one year” he had only a vestigial Chinese accent. ”I do Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry. I like to study and play computer games.”
”You would do even Further Maths if you could” Erwin -Montague shouted. Fortunately no one laughed at this last attempt to humiliate the Chinese boy.
”Shut up Erwin-Montague. You stay behind at the end. We need to discuss your attitude.”
What a shower! That German one seemed all right. Wittelsbach – the royal family of Bavaria? He had seen a Bavarian flag up in St Olaf’s. Then as for Geoffrey – that Hong Konger seemed amiable. The rest seemed dreadful and very unpromising. Well at least that German did not appear to be obtrusive. He was a harmless dimwit. The other thing is that Wittelsbach was not as stuck up as some of the others. Perhaps it was precisely because he was royal that he did not feel impelled to over emphasise he status. Sean was seen as foam flecked right winger by those who knew him. Yet even he was horrified by the unthinking ultra conservative snobbery of some of his tutor group. He was equally aghast at the combative far left zealotry of Mrs Arrowsmith. There seemed nothing to choose between these two repugnant mindsets.
Sean warmed to the German and the Chinaman. Other than that the others proved that abortion could be a moral imperative.
”Right it is time to go to the abbey church” said Sean ”Father abbot shall be concelebrating high mass with Fr Michael and Fr Hugh. So we had best get down there in good time. We are sitting together in the St Olaf’s House section of the church isn’t that right?”
”yes” they murmured. They filed out of the classroom. A milky haired old dear was cleaning the corridor. Sean noticed Stoke give the elderly woman a glare of disdain. Could be worse. If she was a Protestant than this boy would despise her all the more. The boy was an unreconstructed bigot. His face was what really begged to be reconstructed.
Sean Gallagher led them off the the 1920s Gilbert Scot church. It was built of pale stone and was handsome as these things go.
All 500 pupils were there and almost 100 staff. There was a monastery attached to the school. Mass was atmospheric and the music was fantastic. The choir in their raiment led rousing choruses of ”Christs Regnat!”
The school filed up to the gymnasium atop a hillock for the first assembly of the year.
The boys and girls sat on chairs in their respective house sections. The staff lined the walls. Sean stood near St Olaf’s – his house. On the far side of the gym he saw Mr Murphy. Andy Murphy stood with his arms folded. A defensive posture. The man had been there for 12 years. WHy did he feel so under threat? He was paranoid. Oddly enough at Sean’s last school there had been a former colleague of Murphy’s – a chap named Marco Perez. Marco had said ”Andy Murphy is a worrier. He got married years ago and it took a long time for his wife to conceive. That was a burden for them. Yes, he is very stressed out and a real details man. He seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders.” Sean was increasingly perceiving that Marco has been on the money about Andy Murphy.
Sean happened to stand behind a man who was supervising boys in another house. ”Hello there my name is Conor Donnelly” said a sabre toothed middle aged man.
”Hello my name is Sean Gallagher. How do you do?”
”Very well indeed. You are new – looks like you are in Olaf’s?”, this man was 5’8” and affable. He wore a revolting shiny bright blue suit with silver fish tie. His shirt was day glo orange. He wore pink socks inside grey slip on shoes.
”Yes, that’s right how about you?” asked Sean.
”St Edmund’s – Wilbert’s. It is a house with a double name – dedicated to two saints.” he explained in his southern English accent.
”Oh I see. Did you have a good summer holiday?”
”Oh yes pretty good. My wife and my son and I – we went to Ireland. That is where I am from. I was born here – grew up in England. Irish citizen so I go back a lot. How about you – fun summer.”
”Yeah it was quite good once I got going. Had to work in a summer school in July but in August I was all around Central Europe. I spent a bit much though.”
”Ah credit card taken too much of a rollicking? I know the feeling” he said genially.
Sean really warmed to Conor Donnelly.
The pupils were all seated and then the headmaster and the deputy head Mr Brown walked in and up the idle. The chattering pupils gradually fell silent.
Fr Michael got to the lectern at the front and commenced his speech. ”Welcome everyone. ThiSSS iSSS the SSStart of a new term. SSSo let uSSS remember the SSSaintSSS of th SSSchool – the bleSSSed NicholaSSS PoSSStgate and SSSo forth. We are a SSSchool of the Lord’SSS SSService.” Michael carried on his bland announcements in a similar vain and with a singular absence of panache. Fr Michael blatantly detested every single second he had to speak in public. He was a profoundly timorous man. It was agonising to watch. The pupils scarcely listened but at least they were not restive. It was as though Fr Michael was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He did not inspire confidence or respect only pity. It seemed blatant that he loathed being headmaster. He was doing it under obedience to the abbot. It was very much – father take this cup from me. Sean felt deeply embarrassed on behalf of this singularly inept leader.
Then Mr Brown, the deputy headmaster, came to speak. Brown poised over the lectern like a scrum half over a ball at the back of a ruck. He was energetic and delivered his speech with poise and verve. His cadences struck the back of the hall. Now there was a leader! Bonhomous, capable, humorous, approachable and driven. Shouldn’t he be the head?
FIRST LESSON WITH THIRD FORM LOWER ABILITY.
It came to pass that Sean had to teach his first lesson. He was in his classroom and the pupils filed up outside. He opened the door and greeted them sternly. It was vital to instill into them the notion that he was in charge.
The girls and boys were formal outfits. There was no uniform as such. The boys could wear suits. If not their trousers had to be black. They could wear jackets, blazers or jumpers. The girls had to wear something similarly formal but not ties.
Then he had them enter the room. They sat down noiselessly. They were new in the school. Mr Gallagher was an unknown quantity. He could be a psychopath so they dare not provoke him. Gallagher remembered the sagacious advice from a colleague at his first school – don’t smile till Christmas.
They were all settled within half a minute.
”Good afternoon everyone. My name is Mr Gallagher. I shall be your History teacher this year. I am going to go through your names just to start to learn them. It may take a few weeks but also to check that you are all here.”
He proceeded to call the roll of a dozen odd names. Three of them were Hispanic.
”Miguel, are you from a Spanish speaking country.?”
”Yes sir we are from Mexico” a black hair swarthy little boy said with a notably Hispanophone accent.
”I see. Nice. What do you mean by we?”
”Me and Salvador and Jesus.”
”Ah I see – all of you Mexican.”
”Yes we are. All from Mexico City you see.”
”How come you speak such brilliant English?”
”Well we went to a school in Mexico with teachers from Canada and I was at the prep school here last year St Mark’s”
”Ah right I get it.”
Miss Pinfold was one of the pupils. She sat towards the back solemn faced and tight lipped. She was not an unhappy girl. It was simply that her demeanour was dour.
”Now I have various rules. They are all obvious. When you come into the classroom please sit down immediately and be silent. Do not speak without permission. Do not disturb the lesson in any way. Arrive here on time every single time. Bring the things that you need. Do you work on time every time. If you wish to speak please raise your hand and wait for permission. It is all commonsense because we cannot have a dozen people speaking all at the same time. Questions are always welcome. If I speak too fast please let me know. If there is anything you do not understand please ask. If you need something repeated then please ask. I am here to help. I want you to enjoy it. Then you will learn better.”
Sean paused and looked around. He let his words sink in before continuing.
”So first of all – what is History?” Sean asked. It reminded him of a book by E H Carr. ”Any ideas?”
Jack, one of the braver boys, put his hand up.
”Yes, you please” said Sean using his arm to indicate Jack without actually pointing.
”Sir, is it learning about all the things that happened long ago like kings and battles.”
” Yes, pretty good. We do learn about things long ago including kings and battles. I like you answer. ANyone else?”
Jesus, a tall Mexican, ”History is learn about all the events of the old times.”
”Excellent. I am impressed” said Sean jauntily. ”So anyone else – how do we find out about the past?”
A chubby, ruddy faced, brown haired English girl with the classic look of the gentry put up her hand, ” Sir, it is by reading about it in books and watching films about it” she said in her posh asthmatic voice.
”Tremendous, yes books are vital for learning about History and we can see films of things that happened 100 years ago. We did not have films much more than 100 years ago. ANyone else – how else can we learn about these things?”
A girl with curling dark blond hair named Jacynthia put up her paw, ”Mr Gallagher – is it by reading letters and things like that?” She spoke in RP a well.
”Yes, very good. Reading letters is crucial. In the olden days they did not have email of course.”
”Sir we can look at old fallen down buildings” said thin faced Jack.
”Fantastic – yes old buildings can tell us a lot. We dig them up. What else can we see and find?”
Jacynthia put up her hand ”Sir we can look at old paintings and stuff like that..”
”Yes fabulous. ARt work things like the Bayeux tapestry which many of you will know about. So bringing it all together – these things we can look at like books, letters, videos, diaries, paintings, statues, old buildings, things we dig up. What could we call all this together? ”
Jack with the slim face and protruding nose put up his hand. His brown eyes showed total concentration. ”It is information/”
”Pretty good – it is information but there is another word that is even better beginning with a letter E. Anyone think of it?”
Jesus raised his hand and Sean nodded at him to speak ”Is evidence.”
”Marvellous. That is exactly the word I am looking for. So History is about evidence. It is the study of evidence about the past. Right so I am going to put some notes on the board for you to copy down. Underline the heading. Put the date – remember to put the date on everything you do. Don’t forget the name of a month takes a capital letter since it is a proper noun.”
Sean wrote : What is History? 5 September.
History is the study of evidence about the past.
Types of evidence: Books, diaries, letters, court records, government records, paintings, statues, songs, buildings and artefacts.
The pupils diligently copied that down.
He then began a didactic session on the Catholic Church in Europe in the early 16th century. He made sure to make some references to Mexico so the Mexican pupils felt included and realised that this was pertinent to them too.
LOWER SIXTH – THICKOS.
Next day Sean had a lesson with one of his Lower Sixth groups. Among them were some of his tutees. Stephen Erwin- Montague, Harry Burley Wookey, Will Stoke and Jamie Tavish .
They filed in noisily. The class was about 20 strong. Only one girl was among them. She tried to sit on her own.
When they were finally settled Sean began. He strove to put on his stern face.
”Good morning. I am Mr Gallagher. I am your History teacher this year. Let me set out the expectations so you know right from the very start what you have to do. You have all chosen History and that is because you are good at it and you like it. That means that you have to do more work at a higher level than you did at GCSE. ” He then gave them his pep talk.
Gallagher than handed around some pamphlets – notes made by Andy Murphy. These were about the History of the Third Reich. It was supposed to be done in silence. Stephen Erwin – Montague kept piping up. He was as insolent as possible. He insulted the less popular pupils. Some were new in sixth form and so he picked on them. He was very deferential to those boys who were well established and seen as hard.
There was a boy in the slow Lower Sixth set named Callixtus. Callixtus was a gangly Belgian who spoke French as his first language. He always brushed his brown hair carefully without this being in any way an act of ostentation. He was diffident partly because his English was very imperfect. He was one of the few pupils who got on with his work sedulously and behaved himself. The others took no account of the fact that he was doing everything through his second language. He was always tidy, ductile and industrious. He put the others to shame.
THE FIRST NIGHT OF TERM.
Sean walked home from the first night of term. The school was on a hillside. he had to go down a bit to get to the farm lane that led to the village.
It was already dark. He walked down a grassy slope – avoiding the path. In the ambient light he could just make out a few youthful figures coming out of a rhodedendron bush.
They were chatting and he saw flashes if lighted cigarettes. As they drew on the ciggies they lit up more. What did one do? He had not been briefed. How could he catch them all in the dark? How could he get their names? He wanted to let smoking drift but he could not turn a blind eye to it. He had done that in his last school – keen to be liked by the pupils. But no – think of your career he said to himself. Pupils also considered it a sport – teachers were entitled to try to bust them.
Knowing he could not catch them Sean decided to give them a fright. He called out loudly and deeply, ”Hey who is that smoking? You are smoking. Stop come here right now!”
Of course the boys dropped their cigarettes and scattered. They ran for their houses.
Once a week Sean had house duty. He toddled along to St Olaf’s after luncheon. He would supervise their prep session.
He would come back in the evening for the same purpose. Stephen E- M was a junior prefect. He had some authority over the younger boys. Stephen E – M did not concern himself with 4th form or 5th form – they might answer back. He sought out 3 rd form. Some were at boarding school for the first time. Many were lachyrmose. Stephen made it his business to torment them and publicly insult them. Sean was obliged to verbally slap down Stephen for his shameful behaviour. It was an abuse of his authority.
The young three years studied in the big study downstairs. Six formers studied in their rooms. Sean was on duty and had to patrol. Stephen came with him as the junior prefect on duty. Sean knocked on Jamie Tavish’s door.
”Come in” said Jamie
Sean walked in to see Jamie at his desk with a book open.
”Hello Jamie what you up to?”
”I am doing a bit of Maths sir.”
”GCSE again isn’t it?” said Stephen sneeringly. ”Ha ha! You are a thicko.”
”Stephen – that is enough. You do not insult people for things they find difficult. Ok. Grow up. What is wrong with you that you feel compelled to belittle people?”
Stephen fell silent.
Later in the corridor Stephen said ”I am going out for lunch with my parents on Sunday. Dad is back from Iraq on leave.”
”He is in the army is he?”
”Yes he is a major.”
”And would you like to join the army?”
”Not sure.” said Stephen. There was something about his facial expression that Sean could read. Stephen patently did not plan to enlist in the army. But he could not bring himself to tell his parents that. Sean perceived that Stephen lacked the qualities of an army officer – the discipline, physical courage, drive or efficiency. On the other hand Stephen did have some characteristics that were associated with army officers: craven sycophancy, bullying, crassness, vanity, vapidity, moral cowardice, total conformity and a fixation with his hair and clothes. The boy plainly spent half an hour combing his hair each morning.
”And I don’t ever want to hear you insulting people about not being good at a subject” said Sean
”Sir what? I did not do anything.”
”Yes, you did you were being offensive to Jamie just because he has got to re do Maths.”
”Sir, what? I never said anything to him? He is a friend of mine.”
”You most certainly did. I was right there. I heard you. It was five minutes ago.”
”Sir I mentioned he was doing Maths but I was not rude to him. I never would be. I swear on my mother’s life” he said blinking like mad.
Erwin-Montague continued like that. He would always pick on the vulnerable and join the gang of bullies. He would pass it off as mere badinage. But this was not banter. He would find a raw nerve and go for it mercilessly. He was despicable.
Sean got to know Amy. She was the ravishing secretary of the director of studies. Amy was 5’3” and had raven hair past her shoulders. She was slender and vivacious but short on the grey matter.
Sean was in emotional convalescence after the German had dumped him. He decided to set his cap at Amy.
ON THE BUS.
Most mornings Sean took the minibus to school. His friend Lisa Penn was a regular.
Betty also boarded the bus. She was a 60 something cleaner who resembled an over grown turkey that had temporarily taken human form and not too convincingly. A maniacal mindless grin sat on her sallow face beneath her dense, short, dark brown hair. Her brown eyes proclaimed her lack of intelligence. She spoke little but when she did speak it was in a loud and lunatic Yorkshire accent accompanied by shrieking laughter. She was a person of very limited understanding. Betty was forever grasping the wrong end of the stick – with both hands.
Janet was another who took the bus almost daily. Janet was also beyond middle age. She was a 60s beauty complete with a 60s hairstyle. This Yorkshirewoman’s curling blonde locks were always carefully sculpted. She was soft spoken and self -assured. She exuded kindness and tranquility. It was small wonder that she was a nurse and an excellent one at that. She always wore a tasteful dress.
Sean had breakfast in the school every morning. It was one of the few decent things about the place. The brekker was hearty fare. This was not the sort of food with which is school has poisoned its table 10 years earlier.
ANNOUNCEMENT IN MORNING BREAK.
The staff had gathered in the staff room at mid morning break. Maids brought up a trolley with large vats of tea and coffee as well as plates of snacks. They tucked into their elevenses.
The headmaster rang a bell. They fell silent and looked around to his diminutive form. The little Scot spoke up with his exaggerated ‘S’ sounds.
”SSSorry everybody. You will have SSSeen the meSSSage about the propoSSSed timetable changeSSS for next year. PleaSSSe SSSend back your reSSSponSSSeSSS by SSSaturday. ASSS you will know I am a conSSSenSSSuSSS politician. SSSo I would prefer if we can have agreement on thiSSS.”
Sean caught sight of Murphy – arms folded. He was on the defensive as ever. He was negative and suspicious. How had he chosen Sean for the job? Sean was a sanguine and creative sort – the polar opposite of Murphy. He thought that Murphy was so uptight he must wear starched Y fronts.
DEN IN THE WOODS
On Sunday during chapel Sean wandered into the woods near the bottom of the valley. He wandered along a muddy path deep into the woods. In an outlying part of the dense wood he saw a dark shape. He found a disused container shed. There were several plastic chairs nicked from classrooms and there was a table. There were overflowing ashtrays. Cigarette butts were strewn around like confetti.
Sean was not conscientious. He would not report his find.