Sean walked from the village to the school and back twice a day sometimes. This was because he occasionally missed the morning. He reflected that this was not a bad commute. His brother in law Nigel had a two hour commute from his village in the Home Counties to his office in London. Nigel was paying through the nose for his rail fare. Such was life for those in the corporate rat race. It was the price that Nigel paid for being so materialistic.
After luncheon Sean sometimes went home to get games clothes if he was going to take exercise in the gym. Oddly he never once used the pool. How wasteful it was not to activate his muscles more.
He thought to himself it was not a bad commute walking along the muddy country lane. The odour of cows’ manure is curiously fragrant. He savoured the freshness of the air and looked out over the undulating pasturelands with tussocks and gulleys. There were paddocks as well as sheep folds. He would the strangely agreeable smell of horses’ perspiration. He looked to the forest on the far side of the unconquered valley. In those pine woods there were said to be tarns. Should he visit some day? He passed a few detached houses. One man flew the county flag: the white rose of Yorkshire on a sky blue field. Yorkshire people are exceptionally proud of their country. God’s own county they call it – the largest county in England. Sean walked by some farm buildings.
On a soft and soundless September day earth had nothing fairer to show. But he thought that on a grey day in deepest January it would seem to be very dispiriting. Yet still he was blessed to have this of his commute. He spared a thought for his brother in law Nigel. Nigel spent an hour on a train each morning. He paid through the nose for it and never got a seat. Nigel worked 12 hours a day – chained to the desk in an accountancy firm. Could be worse – Sean told himself.
Sean was sure to go to his classroom right after breakfast. This might allay suspicion from Murphy that he was slacking off. Murphy did his damndest to work ungodly hours. He was notorious for arriving at 6 am. He would not quite burn the midnight oil but he would be there at 9 pm. He was neglecting his wife and sons Jake and Taylor. Why this unnecessary zeal? Was Murphy trying to prove something to management? Perhaps he had his eye on a headmastership elsewhere and craved a reputation as a workaholic. Was his marriage that bad that he would do anything to stay away from his wife as much as possible? Murphy could easily bring his work home. But it seemed he was a pharisee. He wanted to be seen to be industrious. Murphy regularly inspected other classrooms along the corridor. He insisted on peeking into every nook and poking his nose into each broom cupboard and closet. He was inspecting cleanliness. Colleagues were bemused by his extreme micromanagement. Creating paperwork was a forte of his. This curmudgeon was never happier than when fault finding. He sent scatters of emails dictating this and that. No wonder academic standards were stagnating when staff were busy generating piles of paperwork to satisfy this man’s ego trip. He was more than a tidy minded person – a bureaucrat on steroids. Trouble was this was mainstream management now. A good manager was someone who browbeat his underlings and set them futile tasks. Murphy was at least methodical in his madness. Murphy agitated for the school to practise lock down drills. A mad gunman loose in the school? This was an unlikely proposition in Yorkshire. Murphy had an aptitude for proposing ridiculous caution. He also said there should be bombproof panes of glass in the windows. He was forever reading evacuation plans and filling in the gaps where he felt they left some eventuality unplanned for. He abominated ingenuity or spontaneity. Was the man paranoid or not? His wife came from North Dakota – easily the drabbest part of America. He certainly had an aptitude for panic. Sean could easily picture Murphy as the leader of a doomsday cult.
Sean once say Murphy’s wife. She was a woman who could pass unnoticed on the street even if stark naked. He could see why Murphy was drawn to her? She had a bullet proof hairstyle.
His one concession to family life was that he never came to work on a Sunday.
Sean was a natural manipulator of people. He realised he would have his work cut out with Murphy. How to stay on the right side of him? Could he outdo him in terms of postulating possible calamities and how to avoid them? No then he would be off the scale. Murphy loved to speculate as to how one should cope with previously unforeseen calamities. He cajoled the headmaster to create a post of co-ordinator for disasters. It was a time which would be apt for Murphy. What is an earthquake struck without warning?
Was Murphy a psychiatric patient acting under the guise of a teacher? Perhaps Murphy was just an alias. But Sean checked him out and he had held various postings under that name.
The corridor was featureless but for a few displays put up by Andy Murphy.
Sean came to know Columbanus. Columbanus had a mass of very dense dark brown wide curls. His skin was pale and he wore glasses. He had a very sunny disposition. His Martin McGuinness accent was noticeable. Mr Canmore taught music. Columbanus Canmore was also attending Young Teachers’ Group. He and Sean bore a passing resemblance to each other.
”COme here” he would always say when he was about to ask something.
”I am deputy housemaster of the sixth form house. I don’t know what to do. I never went to a boarding school. I was in a real rough house school. You went to Oxford. I went to the University of Lancaster.”
”Well rather you than me. I know what boys get up to in houses which is why I would never be an assistant housemaster.”
”We can book guests in. My girlfriend is coming over to stay. I wanted to book us a double room but they said no you can only book her a single room. Unmarried couples not allowed to stay together.”
”Well come on it is a Catholic school – they can hardly be seen to facilitate fornication.”
”Too true. Anyway my wife is from Cork you should meet here.”
”Fantastic I should. I am a Limerickman so there is a bit of a rivalry there – to be the best city in the South outside Dublin. How did you meet here?”
”Well this summer I was in an orchestra playing on a cruise ship. We sailed up the coast of Norway. Where did we stop? Trondheim. She was in the orchestra. She is a bit older than me but we get on great.”
”Wow. Well I look forward to meeting her.”
”Come here. My family will not like her that much if they find out something. Her brother joined the RUC”
”From Cork and he joined the RUC?”
”Yes, I know strange especially as that was 20 years ago. There would be scandalised whipsers in the house of they hear that.”
CLEVER LOWER SIXTH
It was going swimmingly with the high ability Lower Sixth. With his floppy hair Sean was one of them.
One of them stood out: Benedict Connolly. He was a tall slim boy with short mid brown hair. His narrow head contained a formidable intellect. His small dark eyes radiated a penetrating gaze. He was articulate and perceptive but never showed off. He understood things instantly. His essays were erudite and lucid. Sean had seen the boy’s superb articles on global affairs for the school magazine.
Lily Crutwell was a star of the class. This flame haired girl lived locally. She had won a scholarship. Unluckily she was a family friend of Andy Murphy. Two more different people one could not meet. Lily was sweet natured.
Among that set was a pupil named Anna Houseman. Anna was new to the school that year. She was in Lower Sixth. She was a brainy pupil and very zealous too. She had a notable northern accent. Despite her quick mind there was something endearingly immature about her. She was unfailingly punctual and hardworking. She spoke little but wrote much and spoke little.
Sean always feared Murphy coming to lessons unannounced as he occasionally did. Snap inspections in this class tended not to be too bad. These pupils played ball. Sean perceived why a head of department would make impromptu visits. This way he or she could see how things were really done.
What these pupils said about Sean was mostly of good report. He was glad as corrosive rumours would be very harmful to him. He had known colleagues to be sunk by such things.
Sean had only been in the school a couple of weeks when he noticed a young woman. She had blonde-brown hair down to her waist and a self-assured manner. He knew that this slender girl was not a teacher but she could not be a schoolgirl either. It was difficult to tell since there was no school uniform. Was she a secretary? He saw her with her dimpled cheeks simpering in the library. She took the hand of a schoolboy and went behind a bookshelf. Ah that was it – she was a schoolgirl after all. She was 17 but looked 21.
Later in Big Passage he saw her carrying some books in Ancient Greek. ”Hello what is your name?”
”My name is Helena Shire.”
”Well I am …”
”Yes, I know Mr Gallagher” she smiled.
”How do you know?”
”You teach some people in my house. I am not doing History but I like to learn as much of it as I can for fun so I get them to tell me what they have been learning.”
”Which A levels are you doing?”
”Greek, Latin, English and Maths.”
”A classicist I see.”
”Yes, I am. I am half Greek so I suppose I have a head start. I want to read Classics at Oxford.”
”Application deadline is very soon.”
”Yes, I know.”
”Well make sure you apply to one of the less fashionable colleges – boost your chances. Even the ablest candidates can be rebuffed.”
”I shall take that into consideration.”
Just then Helena’s boyfriend came up the corridor and placed his hand on her bottom. Sean pretended not to notice. Her boyfriend was a slim youth of average build with mid brown thick hair in tight curls. There was something urbane about him and he was very tidy – effete.
”Hello sir my name is Theophile Fermier”
He pronounced his name in French but his English was flawless.
”Theophile – are you French?”
”Yes I am but I lived in London all my life.”
Sean often saw the two going to the library together and behind a bookshelf. Public displays of affection were not permitted nor were any privte intimacies but Sean never interefered. He heard them slurp. At this Sean thought it apposite to move to the far end of the library – he did not wish to hear these noises. Nor did he want to intrude on their privacy. It would be inhumane to deprive these young love birds of a little happiness.
When Sean happened to see Helena around he would greet her ”Bonum matinum puella.”
She would respond ”Salve magister” and beam that someone would actually speak Latin to her.
Helena was so bright and engaging that she was delightful conversationalist. This stemmed his loss of morale. He had theretofore been dispirited by having to attempt to teach the ineducable. He felt the coal mines should be reopened to force some of Year 9 down them.
Sean decided he better not be too convivial with her lest a whispering campaign get going. The last thing he wanted was people to say he had a more than pedagogical interest in her. That was the stuff of ruined careers. Even if exonerated a question mark would always hang over him. It would implant a doubt into the minds of even his dearest friends.
Sean came to know Dr Aron. He was a chubby Mancunian with a trimmed beard. He was teaching English. Sean warmed to him. Dr Aron was clearly a very scholarly type. He threw Sean by saying ”I used to chef.” He used the word chef as a verb? Moreover, it was quite a leap from cooking to a Ph D. People say cooking is an art form. Dr Aron’s figure declared that he liked his food.
”I studied animals in mediaeval literature” said Aron. ”People often ask me the origin of the name but it is not Jewish” he said.
Though no spring chicken Aron was attending Young Teachers’ Group. It was a misnomer. It ought to be called New Teachers’ Group. Aron was new to teaching.
AROUND AT ST JAMES’
Abel Kennington invited Sean around. Sean went to their flat. NIGELLA was busy with the two little boys. Abel and Sean quaffed beer.
”Where did you go this summer?”
”Me – Europe. All over the shop. Germany, Hungary – got blotto in Budapest on a pub crawl. Then Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. How about you?”
”Oh I am an armchair traveller. Never go anywhere. It is too tiring” he smiled as though he was very wise.
Sean thought – poor chap is putting a brave face on it. He has three dependents and cannot afford to go anywhere.
NIGELLA came back in and sat down beside Abel. She seemed oddly distant – never looking at her husband.
”We have got some great news” said Abel.
”Oh yes what is that.? ” asked Sean
”NIGELLA is pregnant again.”
”Marvellous/” said Sean ”My heartiest jubilations”
NIGELLA cast him a glance and said ”thank you” weakly. She did not seem so pleased.
”So how far gone are you?”
”Three months” she said. ”Baby is due in May” she said.
”No wonder you are not drinking” Sean quipped.
Three babies in four years – quite a rate of reproduction.
No wonder he was compelled to be an assistant housemaster. He and his family also always ate in the school refectory to save costs.
NIGELLA had also been to Oxford and had a PGCE.
”We considered her working but we would only be ten pounds a day better off after childcare. With this new baby the children are going to outnumber us”, said Abel.
”I see. This is fantastic news. We must celebrate down the pub this weekend.”
”Oh yes indeed. NIGELLA shall stay here to mind the children. Now Sean I am going to petition the Pope to issue a special blessing for our as yet unborn child.”
Yet more religious mania. Sean noticed a quiet tolerance on NIGELLA’s face. Her husband was religiously obsessed and she was non -religious. How could this marriage work when something which was so all encompassing for Abel had no pertinence to her? A beatific smile came over Abel’s face as he raved on about dispensations and imprimaturs.
Sean was attending weekly sessions of Young Teachers’ Group. YTG was another futile body. It existed to justify Mrs Arrowsmith’s salary. Mrs Arroswmith would usually ad lib something anodyne about being a decent teacher. Then she would write the title on the board. Woo hoo! She broke all her own rules of how to teach people. Sean was wiser than to bring this to her attention. But occasionally Mrs A would decide that someone other than herself might have something worthwhile to say.
Fr Ethelwulf gave a talk to young teachers’ group. He was a slim and slightly short man in his 40s with light brown hair and a wide nose. He was a very placid and cerebral type.
”I have been asked to give you an insight into monasticism. Not all of you are Catholics so I will need to explain some of the rudiments. So what distinguishes a monk from a priest? The difference between Monks and priests is a bit like that between doctors and dentists. They are both in the same field but with different specialities. That said – one can be both a monk and a priest at the same time. Just as someone can qualify as a doctor and a denist. Someone can belong to two professions at once. A priest is allowed to say mass. Monks are not allowed to say mass per se. So people over the age of 18 are allowed to visit the abbey and stay overnight – stay for a few nights or even weeks. They are postulants – they are thinking about it. If they wanted to join the order they can apply. We can accept them. So when a man arrives to be a monk he is robed as a monk and he is a monk from that moment. He takes a new name in religion. For example by real name is William but I am known as Ethelwulf in religious life. The monk is then serving his novitiate. The first year is fairly free and open. Of course a novice is free to leave any time. Having got through the first year we try to test the vocation. The second year is deliberately more difficult. Monks are not to leave the grounds of the abbey in their second year – that is to see if they are really up for it. They are allowed one phone call per week. At every stage the other monks have to discuss the novice and agree to let him proceed to the next stage. That is because we will have to spend the rest of our lives together. We test obedience. Novices are told to rake leaves up hill. It is much more sensibke to rake them down hill but we see if he obeys. If the novice gets through two years he takes simple vows – of stability. If he gets through the next two years then he takes solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. So being a full member takes four years. There are some people who join the abbey but do not feel called to become a monk. They serve with us but never take vows. They are called oblates – it comes from the Latin for offering. They have offered their lives to God. We have an abbot and he is elected. Once someone takes solemn vows he is a junior for the first seven years. Thereafter he is a senior. In the old days juniors were not to speak to seniors unless spoken to. Seniors used to try to make juniors do unpleasant tasks. We have to be humble and do things such as clean the loo. You may hear people say that some orders of monks are silent. That is a myth. Monks might be silent for several hours a day but there are no order that are totally silent. ”
A myth. Sean thought about that word. These priests tried to say a myth was a story that had a profound but not a literal truth such as in Genesis. That was casuistry. Here Ethelwulf was saying myth to mean a lie. That is what Genesis is.
”There is the holy office five times a day. Vespers is the last one at night. AFter that we are silent till we wake in the morning. Then we get up and our first words are prayers to God. A monk prays in his cell for a few minutes before matins – holy office at 6 am. We only put our hoods up when we do not want to be disturbed. We are not allowed personal possessions without the permission of father abbot. ”
Someone put his hand up ”can you explain more about that whole monk and priest thing?”
”Yes sure. So a priest can say mass – that means to officiate at the main religious ceremony. Where we have bread and wine – commemorate the last supper. A priest can administer sacraments – baptism, confession, first communion, marriage, extreme unction and so forth. A monk cannot. However, if a monk is ordained a priest then he can say mass and officate at all those ceremonies I just mentioned. So in the abbey we are all monks. Some of us are also priests. A monk is called brother. A priest is called father. If a man is both a monk and a priest then he is known as father. I am both a monk and a priest. If a man becomes monk he can go on to also be ordained as a priest but that takes about six years further study. Two monks die a year on average and vocations do not quite meet the death rate.”
Why were the monks so keen that the lay staff would know so much about the Benedictine tradition? The rules of St Benedict were up all over the place. The abbey had once had 200 monks. It now had 80 and half of those were geriatrics. The abbey was preparing for the day the last monk died. On current projections that would be in 60 years.
ANNOUNCEMENT IN MID MORNING BREAK.
Fr Michael rang a bell for attention. It took half a minute for the chatter to subside. Then the little man spoke very deliberately, ”I have an announcement. An unhappy announcement.” A usual Fr Michael put far too much emphasis on the S sound. ” As most of you will have seen in the newspaper Father Paul and Father Chad were charged with sexually abusing children. They have both pleaded guilty in the crown court. They shall be sentenced later this month. A letter is going out to parents about this matter.”
Sean read up on the episode in the press. A few days later sentences were passed. Fr Paul and Fr Chad had both committed some horrific offences in the 70s and 80s. Sean was not an alarmist on the issue. He did not favour capital punishment at all especially not for this sort of crime. These men were not accused of rape but of lesser sex crimes. He realise there could be grey areas but not in this case. There was no consent and these boys were well below the age of consent – especially the gay age of consent at the time. These monks had molested boys and the oldest victims had been 13. The youngest had been 8. It had not been a case of committing an offence once and then really regretting it. There was a very well established pattern of behaviour. These men had not transgressed but a single time. They had committed these crimes many, many times for over 20 years. They had both abused several boys. The judge handed down a sentence of 5 years each. Sean considered the case dispassionately. These men had pleaded guilty and that would reduce the sentence. Moreover, they were being punished over 10 years after the last crime. Nonetheless a sentence of 5 years seemed to be unduly lenient. They would be out in half the time.
AT THE WHITE SWAN.
Yet again Emily was on a bar stool looking stocious. Dr Aron said,”I bought her a small vodka and almost immediately she was drunk.”
”Maybe she was front loading” said Sean
”What do you mean?” said Aaron.
”She orders vodka to be delivered to her flat every day – orders it from the supermarket. People say she is drinking in lessons. She might have drunk before you got here.”
”Probably right. Her eyes were bloodshot”
The Philhellene walked up to the bar wearing a new blue hooded top, ”Bottle of house red please”
”How many glasses sir?” said the naive young barmaid
”Sorry sir how many glasses?”
”No glass just a bottle.”
”You mean one glass?”
”No I mean a bottle” he said with irritation.
The barmaid then served him – looking perplexed. He drank straight from the bottle. He drank so much it was as though a bottle was a glass for him.
Abel Kennington came along. ”Hello there Sean” he said cheerily.
”Let me get us a bottle” said Sean ”we have reason to celebrate your third offspring.”
An Aussie gapper said to Abel ”congratulations on the new baby”
”Only took me five minutes” said Abel. They all laughed raucously.
”I want to work in Catholic education” said Abel ”when I retire I shall live in the Vatican.”
”Do you think any of the monks are actively gay?”
”I doubt it. I hope not. It repulses me on so many levels.”
”I see. I wonder how they suppress their urges – the straight one too.”
”they are not allowed sex but they are allowed sexuality. I happen to know there is one who used to do confessions but he no longer does. He finds that tempting so he has chosen to remove himself from them.”
”How about the abuse scandals. In the old days when the monks had unsupervised total control of boys it was asking for trouble.”
”Well those sentences were too harsh. I spoke to monks and they told me what Paul actually did. And it was not that serious.”
”Where do you stand on caning?”
”I would bring it back so long as it is for major offences and is not done by some perv who is wanking whilst he does it.”
Sean was in the photocopier room shared by all the departments. He was about to copy some pages of a book for his pupils. There were two large industrial photocopiers. As someone said they could fly to the moon and back. They did doubled sided, stapled and all sorts. It then occurred to him that he had forgotten the password for his department. There was a member of the Modern Languages Department using the other photocopier. Each department had a different password. There was a photocopying budget. Departments were not to exceed this. The door to the photocopying room was wide open. As fortune had it Andy Murphy chanced to passing by. Sean stepped into the corridor.
”Oh Excuse me Mr Murphy, I have forgotten our password for the photocopier. What is it please?”
Murphy looked around left and right and then whispered ”1942. You have got to remember it next time. It is not rocket science. ”
1942. Murphy’s favourite year. The year the Holocaust began. Sean could not believe it. Murphy was whispering it lest the man from Modern Languages hear it. Was a colleague really going to steal their password and photocopy on their account? Why was Murphy so mistrustful? A liar never trusts others. Were they not all at the same school? Were they not all teaching the same children? Yet Murphy acted as though he was at war against the other departments. What was this the secret service?
The Griffin was talking about her house. ”So I am assistant housemistress and the housemistress is Mrs Monk.”
”What is she like?”
”Mrs Monk? She is very nice. She is not that old and she is very capable. She married – two kids. Her brother is Father Ethewulf the housemaster of St James’.
”Wow well she has the right name for the sister of a monk – she is Mrs Monk”
”It gets better – she used to be a nun.”
”Oh my God. Hilarious.”
”She teachers German but not much. She is so busy with house duties.”
Sean noticed a scruffy looking man at staff meetings. He was a little stood and his long, lank brown hair was badly dyed orange. He wore dark blue suits that had seen better days. Sean began to chat to Cassander Jeffries was a Chemistry teacher. He had a florrid face and hoarse voice. He spoke with a mild southern English accent. He was a little stooped and possessed of a venerable pot belly.
”I know Fr Michael at Oxford.”
”How did you know him he was reading History and you did Chemistry”
”Yeah I know but we were both altar boys at the Catholic Church.”
”Oh I see.”
”Yeah Michael had just converted. He was brought up and Episcoplian and then he had moved over to us. Anyway we would be there swining the incense in church. Sometimes I did 360s with the incense censer.”
”360s what do you mean?”
”You know swing it all the way around in a cirle. You are supposed to just swing it from side to side about 90 degrees.”
”A bit irreverent?”
”Well kind of. I am kind of a rebel. When I was doing my D Phil the chemical I mostly experimented with was cannabis – on myself. I grown out of that though.”
Sean saw Cassander in his free time wearing a hoodie. It was a middle aged bachelor’s way of hanging onto his youth.
On Friday and Saturday Cassander was always down the local boozer. Cassander would be there in his hoodie and jeans wearing an old pair of trainers.
”Hi Sean how you doing?”
”Just great thanks.”
”Drink is the only way to cope around here sometimes. I wish I was back in Greece.”
”You go there a lot do you?” asked Sean
”Oh yeah my favourite country. I go there every holiday except for Christmas. No point at Christmas coz it is too cold. So I bring back plenty of ouzo. When I am there I sit on the beach drinking ouzo like an old Greek.”
”What were you doing this afternoon?”
”After lunch I came home and I lay in my garden smoking under the gas tank. Ha ha! I am a bachelor so what do I have for company but big bottle of ouzo?”
Cassander was super relaxed. He was one of the most amiable and unpretentious people there.
All this constant bombarding impressionable young minds with religious propaganda seemed a little distasteful to Sean. The faith was not sinister as such. But as it preached against contraception it had done incalculable harm. Hypocrisy can be a virtue. Because of hypocrisy Catholics in rich countries use contraception.
The incessant reinforcement of superstitious notions was as hemlock to the independent mind. Not many people were intelligent or inquisitive enough to questions their way out of it. The unending preaching produced a superficial faith but not better behaviour. The pupils were averagely well behaved in some cases. Some were unusually good and many were horrific. If religion really did make people better then everyone ought to have been much better.
The vulgarians, the bullies, the insolent, the thieves and the brutes – they were all professed this mythology. They were able to persuade themselves that they were good people despite their anti social behaviour. How? For them goodness did not mean being decent to other. Goodness meant subscribing to false nostra. It meant attendance at certain ceremonies. It meant mouthing words they did not quite believe or understand. They were thus inculcated into duplicity.
So much of the school was about ostentation. It was about appearing to be virtuous. So many pupils expressed their contempt and even hatred for people who were no as lucky as them. The only writer of note to have attended the school published a book entitled ‘Snobs’ – small wonder. The place was a finishing school for subnormal hooray henrys. But that was a little unfair. There were some brainy pupils and there were some delightful pupils whether clever or not. Sean was beginning to see that there were a lot of shits in the place. A lot, a lot of shits. Among pupils and the staff.
The monks went around in robes of righteousness. Was that not pharisaical? Look at me I am holy. Conspicuous modesty makes no sense. In fairness most of the monks really were good people.
The Christian ethic of mercy and generosity sat oddly with the herrenvolk attitude of many of the pupils. They believed that Catholicism made them better than others. Not morally better but just higher beings and therefore entitled to treat others like dirt. Sean was aware that this problem was not confined to Catholics. Most religious denominations suffer from this toxic delusion. They are the elect and the unbelievers are the damned.
Why did this man go by Andy not Andrew? Was it s feeble attempt to be cool? Andrew was such a shite name. Sean had not liked a single person named Andrew. It was for a wet tissue of a personality. It began with ‘and’ after all!
He continued to act with machtrieb. He was power mad. This wicked fiend wanted to control everything. He was very self important. Murphy was an enthusiast for the Holocaust as he said. That said it all. His favourite topic was the most horrific chapter in history. He put Sean in mind of a particularly vicious Nazi.
Murphy was like an unhappy compromise between Gradgrind and Mr McChokemchild. He was humoruless and severe. His funereal face was the last one Sean wanted to see.
He became increasingly testy in meetings with Sean. They had meetings on Tuesday after luncheon. Sean kept forgetting. This was his dyspraxia. He did not want to forget and it got him into even more trouble when they slipped his mind. Murphy would then catch Sean up at luncheon and tell him to come to his office afterwards. This Sean would dutifully do.
Murphy would then scrutinise the reams of documents that he had had the younger man produce. He would knit his brow as he pored over the paperwork. Documents mattered far more than teaching. Sean would feel deeply uncomfortable. Murphy would sniffle. He was a martyr to his sinuses.
”You need to do better lesson plans Sean. It is not rocket science.”
”Sean I noticed that you have done rather a lot of photocopying?”
”Yes Mr Murphy I have.”
”And this has not been authorised by me. Is is strictly necessary?”
”Well yes it is. You said I had to produce my own resources.”
”Anything over 10 copies I must be notified.” he added gravely.
”But there are about 20 pupils in a class.”
”I do not care. Black and white costs 3 pence a copy and do not even think of colour photocopying. You can work out that photocopying costs money. It is not rocket science. ” (sniffle)
”I would not dream of it.” Murphy was too emotionally retarded to catch the sarcasm in Sean’s tone.
”So you must seek permission for anything over 10 copies at least 24 hours in advance by signing and dating the correct permission slip. Is that understood?” (snivel)
”This is not control freakery.” said Murphy.
Sean wanted to say – that is precisely what it is.
Murphy continued ”any head of department would do this.”
Sean knew that to be bogus. These busybody tendencies of his head of department were driving him up the wall. Sean thought back to the words of his former colleague Charlie Chuckles – the relationship with the head of dept is the crucial one. The headmaster is too senior – you hardly have anything to do with him. You are less important than a pupil to him. He was damn right.
Murphy would then give instructions and demand that Sean repeat them back word for word. If he did not get them verbatim he had to do it again. This would be accompanied by many derisory sniffles form Murphy.
”Your administration must be faultless” said Murphy ”Maladministration is a cardinal sin. You shall unfailingly obey all my commands” he said haughtily.
Sean was starting to have difficulties controlling his weaker Lower Sixth group. He did not pitch the lesson right. He needed to modulate it down to their very low ability.
Sean could not quite fathom the bottomless stupidity of some 17 year olds. Why had they elected to do History if they did not know the first thing about it or wish to? It was a major headache trying to teach A levels to those who were essentially subnormal. These drooling backwards boys dispirited Sean in his fruitless attempts to knock a bit of an education into them.
The low cunning of Stephen Erwin- Montague did not mean he was smart. He was 5’6” of sheer malevolence. He had small man syndrome.
Will Stoke was in that set. He had the guile not to be too obtrusive – joining the gang enough to curry favour. He usually avoided punishment. Stoke was short but did not have small man syndrome. That would have made him assertive. No he was low, down, sneaky conformist and a despicable ganger up. He was dull but indecent.
Nothing would have given Sean keener pleasure than to beat Erwin Montague to death with his fists.
Sean was reluctant to issue detentions to boys in St OLaf’s. That would queer the pitch for him in the house. Therefore he gave them a lot of latitude in class. This was picked up on by others. It was no blatant that one did not need to be perceptive to observe that others were awarded detention of continuous disruption by worse behaviour by St Olaf’s did not result in detention. The lessons were little short of a riot.
Sean would leave the lesson frustrated and dazed. He was sometimes compelled to shout so much he had a headache and strained his voice. He was not thinking straight.
Boys like Calixte were reluctant to speak in lessons. His accent was mercilessly ridiculed by Stephen E W.
Not all the brainless boys were morally bad. Some were nice but dim.
Other classes Sean handled with aplomb. He could suppress bad behaviour in third form. Upper sixth he treated like adults and they responded in kind.
The High ability Lower Sixth group was a treat. They were studious. He gauged them right from the start. The only problem was a malodorous pupil named Galian. Galian was a Spaniard who was always excusing his conduct by saying ”in Spain we …”
Sean dealt with third form adroitly.
PARENTS COME ALONG
Lower Sixth parents came along to discuss the progress of their offpsring.
It was then that Sean met Magnus’ dad for the first time. Magnus was a nonentity but his old man had things going for him. The father was a short and spare man. His ruddy race was just slightly wrinkled. He had a military bearing, ”I was in the army for 20 years” he announced in an officer class voice. His weathered cheeks were slim. He had light brown hair feckled with grey. The buttons on his blazer were polished to a blinding shine. From his bad teeth he spoke in a staccato. He was hectoring Sean. ”Magnus is sinking not swimming. We need to do more to support him. He does not get what is going on. I urgently need your intervention. He finds Physics very difficult and History bores him. In English those wretched books are far too long.”
Sean wanted to say that History was the wrong choice. Fortunately the dunder head was not in Sean’s class. It took a very special kind of stupidity to complain that A level novels were overly lengthy. In fact the books on the reading list were not that long.
”He wants to go to Bangor Normal College” said the father. Sean wanted to tell him that Bangor Abnormal College would be more the ticket. But he suppressed the witticism. The dad might not appreciate that drollery!
Magnus was as one writer said the cream of the country – rich and thick. Sean did not dislike Magnus. There was nothing to dislike about him or indeed like. He was eminently forgettable. Such an education was squandered on him.
The chess club was run by Fr Justin. He was a 60 something monk who looked liked he had already died 10 years before. What little hair he had was snow white. His skin was a waxy yellow. He was a quiet and decent man.
Some pupils from another school on the way to a chess tournament asked Sean where the toilet was. He winced to hear that non U word. Many pupils at this school said it too.
FATHER MAURICE OF EDWARD’S – WILBERT’S
Fr Maurice was a housemaster. He was a tall and sprightly man. He had a thin face, barrow nose and lightsome eyes. Fr Maurice’s hair was prematurely white. His voice had a strange authority to it. He was one of the most approachable monks – the could so easily have not been a monk. How did such an ordinary man end up doing something like that? A monastery was for those who were refugees from adult life.
IN THE HOUSE
Fr Augustine always anecdotalised. Sean did not want to hear his vignettes.
Sean could have offered some apercus of his own.
Sean had to supervise the gym. It was his duty to write down the names of those who attended and made sure they were the right kit.
One boy with the surname Barber came along to use the gym. ”Barber is that spelt like the jacket?” asked Sean.
”yeah” said the slow witted blond youth. Sean subsequently discovered that the adolescent’s name was rendered Barber and not Barbour. But this boy was too ignorant to know the spelling of this obligatory garment for public school types.
Along came Plantagenet.
”Hello there how are you?”Sean greeted the lanky buck toothed simpleton.
”Oh all right sir” he greeted him toothsomely.
”I heard you were at Harrow before how was that?”
”Well I was there for two terms. I did not like it much sir. Particularly not my room mate.”
”Well he smelt. I had lived in London all my life but before I went to Harrow I had never spoken to a black person.”
”Yes not till I met that boy from Nigeria. He had such a thick accent I could hardly understand him.”
Sean was speechless. A seemingly agreeable boy was that racist! Plantagenet THEN went and used the machines.
Sean was flabby. He was a beer monster. He started to take some exercise while he was there too fight off the folds.
Sean got to know a colleague called Lisa Penn. Lisa was teaching Christian Theology. She was a year younger. She had mid brown hair. She dressed in a very feminine style but never wore makeup. Lisa was all hands when she spoke. Her voice was dulcet yet had a slight lisp. One of her most endearing qualities was her utter sincerity.
Lisa had a boyfriend. He was a very likable chap. Sean could not help but be jealous oof him. He met the boyfriend Bill many times. He would not be humane if he did not feel like that. Bill had it all. He was living in London, doing a Ph D and going out with Lisa. If Sean had handled Bill maladroitly it could all have ended in disaster.
Sean would spend a lot of time with Lisa – going to her house and she came to his. One evening they walked arm in arm. He looked at her and thought – if only she were mine.
It transpired that Lisa was benignly mad. Like a lot of faintly daft people she smoked. She was not good with money. She overspent and her friend had to take her finances in hand. She was also very erratic in her sleeping habits. She would sleep one hour one night and twelve hours the next. She almost missed her class a couple of times.
There were not many single pre menopausal women in this young horse dorp. Sean and Lisa got along very well. They were both free spirits and into the Humanities. They both detested the small minded bureaucrats who ran the place. It was difficult for Sean not to feel attached.
They would often walk from the village to the school and back. Sometimes they took the bus in the morning. They were often in the pub together. Sean reflected that Lisa’s boyfriend was in London. But Sean was with her all the time.
Lisa confided in him. Her man did not treat her well. ”I am not on any contraception.” When he do it he is supposed to pull out before he cums. But he forgets sometimes” she said anxiously.
”Isn’t the obvious answer to go on contraception?” said Sean.
”That is against the teaching of the Church” said Lisa illogically.
Sean wanted to say – so is fornication but his tact got the better of him.
Her boyfriend did not believe in God at all.
Sean was staring down the long barrel of involuntary celibacy. He was a philanderer. He had found other boys’ girlfriend surprisingly easy to seduce. For some reason propriety forfended trying it on with Lisa. He did not wish to be known as disreputable in this small community. What if Lisa rejected him? What if she told her boyfriend?
How he pined for the honey coloured sandstones streets of Oxford. They had absorbed centuries of youth. It had all happened there. He was happiest there. Those carefree days of optimism seemed irrecoverable.
After only a few weeks there was a long weekend. This sanity break was very much needed
He went down to London – tonic for him. It was northern underexposure. He thought he had better enjoy London Town to the full. He would not see it again in a long time.
On his weekend away in September Sean stayed with Kyrle. Kyrle was between jobs and living in a shared flat in Marylebone.
”There is a bloke teaching there called Abel Kennington was at Oxford with us”
”I know him” Kyrle piped up ”I remember seeing him in the Union when he was sitting finals and saying his girlfriend was pregnant.”
”She is again now for the third time”
”Extraordinary. He was a top chap but an absolute loony.”
”He said he was rusticated for a year for being academically crap. But then he boasts how clever he is and he just missed his first was accepted for an M Phil but got married and could not do it. I think he regrets it.”
”He was not suspended for that. He was rusticated for being an alcholic.”
”Were’nt we all alkies?”
”Yes I know to be suspended for alcoholism really take some doing. Then he attempted suicide.”
”He is even more of a kook than I had realised. He is a bloody nice chap though.”
”Yes, I know he is a lovely bloke but a total nutter.” said Kyrle.
He was dying for a BJ. He thought of going to the haggard trollopes of Soho. He went to his usual haunts in Soho. He had a five pound haircut in Greek Street.
Sean had his last free air. With a heavy heart he stepped on that train north.
September weekend away. SPEAKING TO CHAKRABARTY
When in London Sean spoke to his old chum Chakrabarty
”The Wiffen – I remember when we were at Oxford. She was going out with Luke. Then she went mental. She turned up at his room at midnight with a knife. Her eyes were glazed and she said she was going to stab him. So we had to lock the door. We called 999. And they were asking Luke his name, address and favourite colour and he had to say there is a total fucking nutter here with a knife and she wants to stab me so come and arrest her right now or I am gonna die. Anyway the police came and arrested her. She was then rusticated for the rest of the year.”
”The amazing thing is she still graduated in the normal three years and got a double first.”
”Genius comes with madness”
”To get the job I suppose she was less than honest about her time away from education.”
”She just did not tell them I suppose”
”It is amazing she can do so well on her PGCE get offered a job so soon. She probably interviews very well. Comes across as so enthusiastic. She can be organised. But then she has an attack of mania.”
By the church a corridor led into the monastic enclosure. No female was permitted within the enclosure. The monastic sick bay was outside the the monastic enclosure. This meant that a female nurse could attend some of the infirm monks. Some monks were in their 90s and very infirm.
As the corridor from the school lead into the monastery there was a Latin inscription on an arch ” Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. ” translating ”Oh God who has been the joy of my youth.”
All around the school were Latin signs reading Ora pro nobis (pray for us) and the like. Why in Latin? The Catholic Church had not used Latin as its principal language of worship for over 40 years. Very few pupils were conversant with the language. Was this not patent intellectual snobbery. I know something you don’t know – ner ner ner ner na na. It was exclusionary. Is the Church not to welcome all God’s children including the less intelligent? The school certainly the less intelligent – so long as they had money.
PROGRESS MEETING WITH MRS ARROWSMITH
Sean was summoned to a meeting with Mrs Arrowsmith. Sean had only been in the school for two weeks or so and things did not appear to be going too badly.
Sean walked into her small office near the staff room. Mrs Arrowswith was female only in the most strictly technical sense. She had a very oddly layered face. Did she have androgene intolerance syndrome? This is when a foetus is supposed to develop as a male. Female is the default setting. But the body is intolerant of male hormones and so stays female. These babies are born as girls and are female only in their plumbing but do not develop female secondary sexual characteristics. But then Sean remembered that Arrowsmith had three children. But were they adopted? Had such as she parturated?
Mrs Arrowsmith wore her usual corduroy trousers and a tatty guernsey. Her black labrador greeted Sean cordially. He was philocanine and welcomed the cur. It licked his hand avidly.
”Oh he is a complete tart I am afraid” said Mrs A cheerfully ”he greets everyone like that.” She had said that just in case Sean might have felt pleased about the dog warming to him.
”Sean sit down” she returned to her usual grave manner. The widow then continued ”We have decided that you are to do a PGCE via the University of Buckingham.”
”Yes, I see. That was in the offer letter.”
”Right so that involves a lot of planning and some trips to Buckingham.”
Mrs Arrowsmith was a do gooder who never manged to do any good.
”We must make the students have more of a social conscience. The PC agenda is very much on the agenda. We must fight racism in all its manifestations. People who say they are not racist and think they are not racist are racist without even knowing it. I have drawn up a ten point anti racist action plan for you to implement. I am an expert in anti racist training. So you have to detect subliminal racist attitudes and tackle them. Britain is a maliciously racist country ” she said.
Sean was shellshocked by this rant. This woman was a strange and savage embodiment of a Catholic boarding school. She was obsessed with this myth that everyone was racist – except her. In other words everyone was evil except her and only she could offer redemption. They were all racist? How did she know? She knew what people believed more than they did themselves? The woman thought she was a mind reader. She came across as a communist two headed beast.
YOUNG TEACHER’S GROUP
Mrs Arrowsmith decided to set up a young teacher’s group. Sean had the dubious honour of belonging to this august outfit.
This far left demagogue flattered herself that she had some wisdom to impart. Sean sat there unprotestingly and listened to her tirades. He found himself increasingly at odds with her rants against conservatism in all forms. The school was schizophrenic. It was reactionary in some ways and it embraced the worst of the aggressive PC mindset in other respects.
Week after weary week he dragged himself along to these hate sessions. It was like she was perpetually paraphrasing the opinion pages of the Guardian. He sister was a notorious ultra left rent a quote.
One morning Sean boarded the minibus. The deranged cleaner and the nurse were aboard. Alice hopped in too. The driver had the radio on.
Cat Stevens was blaring out his 70 s hit ”I am on the way to Amarillo/ I will be hugging my pillow/ There sweet Marie waits for me.” Sean thrilled to this jaunty jingle. He mentally composed a pastiche
”I am on the way to Amblefifth-illo/ I will be hugging my pillow/ Sweet nobody waits for me.”
In terms of women it was a case of northern under exposure.
Sean took some consolation in natural beauty. He would walk along the lanes and look out over the undulating unploughed fields. The birdsong and the disorderly prettiness of the grass and bushes soothed him. The land was full of dells and hillocks. Sheep browsed on the well watered grass. Cows grazed on the meads. Sean could not help but thinking that some of the cows would do better in his classes than certain of the pupils – such was their bovine stupidity. The beasts had mates but Sean had no female to munch on.
TUTOR GROUP CONTINUES
Sean conceived a burning hatred of Stoke. Stoke wanted to join the army hey? Sean prayed that the boy would be sent to Iraq. Sean was a beery swine but he detested Stoke so heartily that if Stoke went to Iraq even Sean would want to join Al Qa’eda. There might be an IED with Stoke’s name on it. Sean was merciful. He did not want the boy to be killed. No, he wanted him to be quadra spazzed and sucking food through a straw and attached to a cholostomy all his life. The boy was a mixture of spite, stupidity, superciliousness and cuntishness.
Father Bosco was an elderly monk. The remnants of his white hair clung to the very extremities of his scalp. His eyes sat deep in his unhealthily pale and drooping face. He looked like an overgrown dwarf. He came across as daft. He would stare at people as they spoke to him – saliva forming in the corner of his mouth. He would pause for a disconcertingly long time before replying. He mild stench followed him around. He gave the impression of having long since lost touch with the world. He was another monk who had come to the valley at the age of 7 and never left. Perhaps he was stuck in a time warp from that age. He was like a holy fool. What did this man teach? Politics. It was a bizarre irony. For this subject a teacher ought to be very au fait with the modern world.
Sean was speaking to Abel Kennington one time. ”Father Ethelwulf told me they get one inquiry a week about joining the monastery. They said that they have to check people out very carefully to see they that are fit to join. He said they have to check them out with a psychiatrist – Ethelwulf said he meant that absolutely seriously. I felt like piping up – you don;t think you let one slip throught the net!”
Abel Kennington at once stood up straight and a droll expression took over his face but he said ”I think that would have been a bit too far but I know what you are talking about – Father Bosco.”
”Yep he is mad as a box of frogs.”
”Climbing the walls. It is like he has had plenty of stimulants.” said Abel
” He is like a camp Poirot on speed. As for the effect of speed – Would you know?”
”Well I took a bit of speed but I gave it up when I got married. Nigella made me promise.”
”Maybe some barbiturates would modify his behaviour.”
Fr Bosco was not malicious.
Sean came to know one of the 3rd formers in St Olaf’s. He did not teach him but the boy was noticeable for being the shortest one in the house. He had long, messy blond hair and was rather tanned. He was known as a joker. Sean heard that the boy came from a noble house.
Sean spoke to Dr Shilling, ”Is he the son of the duke of….”
”No cadet branch. It is a distant relative of theirs who is the duke” said Dr Shilling.
Sean was mightily impressed that a scientist should know such a thing as there being a cadet branch.
There was a svelte PE teacher on the staff. Sean could not help but notice her on almost the same day. She was very good looking. Sporty women were sometimes too muscular or mannish but not this one.
”Hi my name is Sean” he had said to her in the staff room.
”Hi I am Jane Sobiewski” she said in an Australian accent. She managed to make a tracksuit seem feminine.
”You are new as well I think”
”Yes sure I am. I was working in France on yachts for a year. Then I decided to get back into teaching.”
”Was it hard to get the visa?”
”No not at all. My grandparents moved from Poland to Oz so I am a Polish citizen even though I never even been there. Now with with EU and all that I can come here no hassle.”
She had a narrow head with a very curved forehead. Her dark brown hair hung down almost to her waist but often she had to tie it back for sport. She had a pretty face and vivacious hazel eyes. Sean was quite taken with her but he knew she would never be his so he did not even try. She wanted a sporty guy.
”What sport you involved with this term?” she asked him
”None. I would like to coach rugger but they said I have to do lots of preparation for teaching.”
”Rugger – that is such a pommy word” she laughed affectionately.
”What do you expect?”
”Fair point. But what sport does it for you.?”
”Debating is not a sport.”
”Oh well then rugger if only they would let me.” He put on a stagey expression of pathos and she laughed helplessly. He could a must her all right. Could he laugh her into bed? It was a long shot but his only hope. She was an athlete and as he was tubby she was not going to go for him for his body.
DOWN THE WHITE SWAN..
That weekend Sean went to the White Swan to socialise. Griffin was on her customary bar stool. She had necked a vodka and was ordering another one. She was bleary eyed and looked helpless.
Cassander Jeffries sported his usual hoody.. He had a cigarette in an ash tray and was sipping a lager.
Lisa Penn was there smoking. Her boyfriend was up from London.
There was Abel Kennington in a three piece tweed suit. His hat sat on the bar. Sean spotted his pectoral crucifix in the gap between his buttons.
”Hello old chap” Abel greeted him.
”Good evening Abel how are you going?’
”Oh top hole! May I get you a drink old boy?”
”Yes, certainly. How about John Smith’s”
”John Smith it is!” said Abel going to order. Abel then turned to Sean, ”I am going to petition His Holiness the Pope to bring back the Pontifical Metropolitan Guard.”
”What is that?”
”A part time army for all Catholics who live in Rome.”
”If I can get the pope to resurrect the Noble Guard it will be so much the better. Pontifical cavalry you see.”
”Yes I rather fancy a commission for myself in the Noble Guard.”
”How about the Pontifical Navy?”
”Yes that too.”
Sean had had his curiosity piqued by the reactionary Catholicism of Abel and the WIFFEN. He had read up about the Pope of Kansas. A young man in Kansas had decided that the entire past millennium had been one gigantic mistake. He believed that the Catholoc Church had deviated from the true path. This man therefore had restored the mediaeval Catholic Church. Pope Michael wore white papal robes and took himself absolutely seriously. He had a few disciples – his parents among them. Theologically of course Pope Michael was right but which did people go for? Did they plump for theological correctness or did they go for the man who controlled the beautiful buildings? Worldliness won and not spiritual purity. Pope Michael was barking mad.
Next week Sean was not pleased to see the fox like face of Stephen E -W.
Sean decided to give these boys a piece of his mind. He tried not to judge them too hard for their snobbish attitudes. 10 years earlier he had thought the same way. He had been in a snobby ambience. Sean had had greater independence of thought and intelligence so there had been less excuse for his harbouring such distasteful attitudes.
”You know that being Catholic is not about being posh. It is open to all social classes. Christianity started out as being for the poor and the oppressed. Catholics were detested in this country till not so long ago. The upper class is mostly Protestant here as is the royal family. So do not think being Catholic makes you posh. It certainly does not make you morally superior. Does not make you inferior. If you want to be morally good you have to behave like it.”