As autumn drew on twas getting parky. They sky grew grayer. The sun became but a faint memory. The nights drew in as the dawn came later. Sean started to rise not long after cockcrow. The leaves had almost all fallen and they turned from yellow to brown. A luckless Levantine novice monk was seen raking them uphill: a test of obedience. Being irrational is the measure of a good monk.
Sean asked Miss Jenkins, ”When does the heating come on?”
”When it is cold” said Miss J she said curtly.
On the bus to school he would chat to the old nurse. She told him ”Unfortunately Fr Hilarius has taken a turn for the worse. He is nearly 90. Won’t be long before he meets his Maker I am afraid”.
Sean was surprised that she should reveal confidential medical information to him.
As Sean walked out of the main school building on his way home each evening he would pass the monastery. There was a large room at the front of the building that was known as the calefactory. This was because it was the warm room – there was a fireplace there. Sean noticed logs crackling in the hearth as he walked past the large bay windows. The monks would be in the church praying to the Most High.
Sean phoned his aunt Bernadette. She was elated to hear from him ”Mammy says – he eats with the monks. She said you would be happy to live with them and not worry about a house or what to wear.”
Sean did his house duty. Getting the juniors to knuckle down to their prep in the study was not easy. KEEGAN kept making excuses to wander around. He was lippy and surly. He was not too dim but failing in all subjects. Sean took him out of the room and tried to speak to him in an avuncular tone – would he not be wiser to get on with his work. KEEGAN would not take counsel. ”It is all so pointless” said KEEGN. He knew best. Sean wanted to tell KEEGAN that he was so pointless. What were his parents spending stupid amounts of money on? This boy with the bog brush hair could easily round up supermarket trolleys for a living. Frittering his time away on no achievements whatsoever was far more appealing to this deadbeat . Sean had heard his colleagues warn KEEGAN not to go the way of his brother who had got U grades in all his GCSEs and had to leave the school. ”Do not drag in my brother” he would almost shout. Sean realised this tactic would not work so never employed it. Sean was an astute judge of character. He got the measure of KEEGAN and devised a new ploy to use on him. ”You are not a chav are you?” he adopted a sympathetic yes suspicious tone, ”that’s why you are going to do your prep like a public school boy.” KEEGAN was stunned for a moment – teetering between a sense of insult and a need to assuage the possibility that he could be a chav. ”No, sir of course I am not a chav.”
Sean continued, ”Right that’s what I said. So I know you are going to do your work then.” He hurried off. His gambit worked a treat – for a while.
WILL SHEPHERD was cooking upstairs in the kitchen. The others had taken to calling this meaty boy ‘champ’. WILL SHEPHERD WAS also known to be having a dalliance with perhaps the most nubile girl in the school. Sean was deeply envious of his sporting prowess and the adulation of his peers. Would like ever be as sweet for this boy again? Unless he made it as a professional his life had already peaked at 17. As his sporting ability palled he might find himself disillusioned. It is a dangerous thing to be given such kudos at such an impressionable age. The rest of life can be one long anticlimax.
MEETING WITH MURPHY.
Sean dreaded his Tuesday meetings with Murphy. These always came after luncheon. Andy Murphy was always feeling acidulous. His ratty mood was partly explained by having eaten and drunk but never relieved himself. These meetings were a psychological assault course for Sean. How could he get through relatively unscathed?
Murphy was sniffling and looking melancholic and stressed as always, ”You need to check your emails a heck of a lot more often. A HECK of a lot more often” Murphy sniffled. Sean could not believe that Murphy would mince such an oath: ‘heck’. Andy Murphy was such a wet tissue that he would not even say ‘hell’. ” I check my emails at least 100 times a day. No exaggeration. The sooner you see a problem the sooner you can solve it. This is not rocket science.” Murphy pressed his lips forward and to the right. He attempted to clear his sinuses that so plagued him.
”You need to organise your plans and then index them” said Murphy. Why did this man have such tunnel vision? For him it was all about organising education and not about delivering it.
Sean noticed a letter pinned to the wall. It was from Chelsea Football Club. Murphy was a supporter as was his pal the sabre toothed mathematician. The letter congratulated Murphy on getting engaged which he had done about 10 years earlier. ”We are sure you have found your perfect match.” Geeks often try to gain street cred by claiming to be a football fan. Sean was a Humanities geek and never pretended to care about footer.
Murphy had some personal photos up in his office. One of them showed him wearing large glasses – those 90s style glasses where the frames hang down well below the cheekbones. So Murphy wore specs. Why did he go to the bother of putting on contact lenses every day? Sean did not need specs. He said that when he needed glasses he would simply wear them and not fuss with contact lenses. They are the bane of poseurs.
Sean reflected on how badly wrong British education had gone. What was a PGCE all about? Its chief concern was to ‘educate’ out of a person all his or her creativity and verve. Once upon a time teachers taught the pupils facts and expanded their vocabulary as well as inculcating skills and study habits into the pupils. Now information was all scrambled into attainment targets, assessment objectives one and two, aims and goals. Objectives and aims had to be different because of course they are not synonyms. Sean had to fret over how History could be bent and twisted to fit the rubric. What a rigmarole. Why now just teach them? But oh now. That would be too straightforward. Common sense must never be allowed to impede ever spiralling complexity. So much for pupil centred learning. It was all navel gazing; obsessing over creating documents that pupils would never see. The irony of this entirely self-referential system was lost on the pointy headed pedagogues who raved about child-centred learning. It was the worst sort of groupthink. The educational establishment simply reinforced each other’s belief that writing a plethora of documents and renaming things ad nauseaum would somehow be of enormous benefit to pupils. Anyone who wanted to be acknowledge as an educationalist had to subscribe to this credo. Such nostra could not be gainsaid. It was all based on empirical data from research. Except that a few years later another study would come scientifically proving that a different educational method was the only one to be followed. Sean was not going to tell the emperor that he had no clothes on. He knew he would suffer a rough handling if he dared dissent. It was all in the great name of education!
Sean thought about how schooling in England had been messed around. State schools were often comprehensives but sometimes grammar schools and secondary moderns. A so-called grammar school might be non selective. Then there were beacon academies and specialist schools and city academies. Sean had met a deputy headmaster called Mr Kuhn who railed against the needless complication of schooling. It was all about what things were labelled and not what they actually did. The government was forever fretting about choice, diversity and constantly renaming and reorganising things. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic sprang to mind. The deputy headmaster Mr Kuhn said; ”I have an idea for a decent education system. What is wrong with this? Your local school is a good one and you go to it. Hmmm… what is wrong with that? Your local school is good and you go there!” This proposal was flawless. Perhaps politicians found it cathartic to tear up the curriculum every few years and start again. Every Education Secretary promised to restore school discipline, to raise academic standards, to end grade inflation and to initiate a bonfire of regulations – then proceeded to do the exact opposite.
Sean craved some catharsis – forcing the Education Secretary to eat a complete print out of each year’s new regulations.
A couple of years of teaching had cured Sean of his white bread naivete. His idealism had long since died.
Sean would rather be poring over a History book than typing out endless plans which were perfectly useless. Mostly his notes were a cheap jack imitation of Murphy’s own. When Sean did it his way he was told it was dead wrong. He was also aware that he did not care a fig about the low ability pupils. He mostly taught to entertain himself. He occasionally suffered a prick of conscience if he perceived that a pupil with little aptitude at least tried and was a likable person.
MRS ARROWSMITH OBSERVES A CLASS.
It was 5th form. The class went quite well. As there was another teacher in the room there was no misconduct to repress. RAYNAR had sat their with fingerless gloves on. He looked catacleptic and his head was lent to one side. His mouth was several sizes too large for his red face and hung agape. He drooled throughout.
There was Pinfold like a weasel. He sniffed and scratched not doing a stroke of work. At least he did not cause merry hell. The others slouched but sometimes sat up and answered a question. Sean stood throughout and paced a little. His bearing was very upright.
Sean was beginning to realise his basic problem as a teacher. He did not give a shit about his pupils. He did not care about their education or welfare. He wished to do justice to the subject. Worry about their exams? He would never do that. He had had to worry about his own exams. Their exam results were their own concern. Did they not claim to be adults? Except when it came to assuming responsibility for their behaviour and its consequences – unless of course they were successful.
He sometimes thought about it from the pupil’s point of view. They came in. This man did a review. Had them read aloud. Went over some vocab. Asked some questions. Set them discussion tasks. Solicited their findings. Wrote it up. Set them work. Not too bad ? He had not been taught in such an imaginative and inter active manner. Chalk and talk was Victorian – so he was told. Had the Victorians not made the most rapid advances in learning of all eras? Perhaps there was something to their methodology. Sean had been told by Mrs Arrowsmith to be very modern so he had been. He thought her notions were largely bunkum but he knew that a wilful stance would not do his career any good.
Mrs Arrowsmith then said ”I would have made RAYNAR take his gloves off.”
Why waste one’s breath? What harm did these gloves do? Sean spent much of his time chivvying his pupils. He liked to cut them some slack. He would let some things drift and earn goodwill in return. One had to turn Nelson’s eye to some things – so his senior colleagues had told him. Were gloves a battle worth fighting?
RUN IN WITH MRS ARROWSMITH
Sean was teaching the reject lower sixth.
Jamie and Stephen E W were playing up. They shouted out and disrupted ad infinitum. Sean had given detentions to others for persistent disruption. Sean made eye contact with Jamie. He looked into Jamie’s eyes – there was nobody at home. He had warned boys from St Olaf’s. He had given them last warnings. They had exceeded final warnings and still he had given then detentions. These two carried on with insolent and vulgar remarks. Sean could forgive them no longer. He announced that they both had Saturday detention.
”I am not going to go” shouted Jamie.
”Me neither” trumpeted the vulpine Erwin-Montague.
”Yes I am going to go to Augustine about it.”
”Yeah me too and get it cancelled” they persisted in shouting out. Jamie was livid.
”If you carry on like that I will give you evening detention too.”
”You can’t do that” shouted Jamie.
”I am warning you Jamie: be quiet. ”
”I am not going to go to your detention!” he screamed
”if you disrupt one more time I will give you Saturday night detention too”
”No you won’t” he shrieked.
”Saturday evening detention”
”You cannot do that” said Jamie truculently.
The lesson was an ordeal for Sean. Jamie was so childish and rude that it was a nightmare. Sean remembered ruefully that he was never allowed to send people out. That was policy.
Sean entered the detentions on the system. He then had an email from Augustine asking him to come and speak about them.
Sean sat down in Augustine’s study. Augustine began in his usual quiet and placid manner. ”Hello there Sean. So you gave Jamie and Stephen detention. I realise that can be a bit annoying in class.”
”A bit annoying? They were horrific. They did their level best to ruin the whole lesson. They would not be quiet for the whole 50 minutes. I warned them many, many times.”
”Oh well I am sorry about that but is it really a big deal?”
”Yes it certainly is. We are here to teach and that is impossible of these two are shouting all the time.”
”How about you keep the Saturday morning detentions for them and cancel the evening detentions?”
”No sorry. They need both. I have never been so sure of anything in all my life.”
”But all punishment does is cause resentment.”
”No it does not. You punish people too.”
”But this will damage your relationship with your tutor group.”
”No these two have damaged it by their outrageous behaviour. I have already been very indulgent. I let them off several times when I punished others. The rest of the class has noticed.”
”Can’t you let them off just once more?”
”No, I have said I was going to do it so I have to do it.”
”Then you get into a situation like the Americans over Iraq where they say they have got to do it because they would look weak if they did not.”
”You picked the wrong person to use that analogy with. I supported the liberation of Iraq.” Sean was disgusted as Augustine’s analogy. Were these boys Saddam? Sean could not forgive the pope for entertaining Tariq Ahmed – Saddam’s foreign minister. The pope knew precisely what atrocities the Ba’athists perpetrated and still he wanted to keep the Ba’athists in power.
”What I would have said is Jamie calm down – go out of the room”
Sean looked away. He was angry at being second guessed. This was a class issue and not a house issue. Augustine was favouring bad behaviour over discipline. His condescending tone was also galling.
”So you do not agreed to cancel the evening detention?.”
”I am unpersuaded so no. Another housemaster tried to convince me to overturn a detention and I said no.”
”Oh” said Augustine. He looked down and away to the right blinking. Augustine did not do confrontation.
”So we are agreed that the detentions stand”
”Yes” said Augustine meekly. They shook hands and Sean went on his way.
Augustine immediately emailed Mrs Arrowsmith ”I am left slightly reeling after a meeting with Sean. He gave double detention to two boys in the house. I told him to cancel the evening detentions and he refused. Could you please have him reverse this?”
He was then summoned by Mrs Arrowsmith. Sean went to see her in her classroom after last lesson. It was already dark.
Sean sat down and she stood.
”You were told to cancel this detention” she said angrily.
”No, Augustine asked me to discuss it with him. I did and we agreed that the double detention would stand.”
”Well you need to cancel it. If Jamie plays up you send him to me. You do not give double detention.”
”I was there and you were not. This is a class issue. It is not for housemasters to overturn these decisions.”
”You are in Augsutine’s house.”
”And they are in my class.”
”You must cancel the evening detention. The morning detention can stay.”
”I will be cut off at the knees for the rest of the year.”
”You must do as I say. You are letting your pride get in the way.”
”This is injustice. These boys need to be properly punished. They ignored dozens of warnings. They ruined the whole lesson for everyone else but I will cancel the evening detention because otherwise you will just get Fr Michael to cancel them.”
Sean was being berated for having pride. He was often exhorted to take pride in his work and his appearance. As for pride – it was Augustine who was too afraid of losing face to be honest with Sean. Now he was not man enough to disagree in person. He was getting Arrowsmith to do his dirty work for him.
They were both irate. Sean walked off.
”Thank you” said Mrs Arrowsmith as insincerely as she could manage. Sean did not force himself to utter something so flagrantly disingenuous.
As for Augustine – so much for trusting the word of a man of the cloth.
Sean had once believed in himself. These constant setbacks and humiliations had led to a detumescence of his ego. That very evening Mr Loveday sent an email to Andy Murphy ”I am starting to get rumbles about Sean…”
RUCTIONS WITH FATHER WILFRID.
Two boys in Fr Wilfrid’s house kept speaking out of turn in class. One of them was a tall dead eyed dim wit with a deep voice. They did not protest at the time. They later went to speak to Fr Wilfrid.
Sean was obliged to give detention to two boys in Lower Sixth.
Their housemaster wrote to Sean asking him to overturn it. ”They spoke to me about this very politely I might add.” Sean loathed that phrase ”I might add” Er, you just did.
Sean wrote back saying that he had warned them time out of number. He could not tolerate endless disruption in lessons. Sean was also furious and frustrated with people speaking over him. Scores of times a day he had to say ”be quiet”. Teaching was not turning out as he wanted. He seldom got clever and motivated pupils.
Sean had to hurriedly end the email – he had to go somewhere. He ended ”I will not rescind this decision.”
Sean happened to see Fr Wilfrid outside the front of the main building. He was visibly annoyed.
”Sean I got your email. Ok I accept it. But you don’t think it is a bit rude to say I will not rescind your decision?”
”Sorry for that. It was a poor phrase to use.”
FR AUGUSTINE AND WOMEN
A parents’ day was coming up. On Saturday arvo teachers had to mill around the front hall having a buffet luncheon.
Sean had to speak to his tutees’ parents. Augustine said to him naughtily, ”you are going to have and go and look at ladies’ chests”. Nothing wrong with desire but it was unseemly of one who wore the sacerdotal plate to indulge in such ribaldry. Sean would never have made a lewd remark within Augustine’s hearing. He thought that this was too delicate a subject for a celibate to hear about.
There was Wittelsbach’s father. He was a tall and lean man of around 50. He had grey hair in profusion and an especially ridiculous moustache. By the quizzical simpleton face on him this scion of Mitteleuropea’s royalty was plainly fished out of a stagnant gene pool. However, this mentally subnormal German was most agreeable.
Lisa later remarked that Augsutine often flirted with her. When he had a few drinks down him Augustine remarked of another monk ”he is even worse than me he makes a beeline for any young woman.” Should Augustine not concentrate more on fighting the good fight against his biological urges? Invoking the mighty aid of the Blessed Virgin to help him suppress his God given lust was surely the right course. What kind of moral example was he setting to the hormonal?
Sean was unhappily single. Whom should he set his cap at? He was not spoilt for choice. Single females between legality and menopause were thin on the ground in this Vale of Tears. Sean had spied Miss Jane Bland the Maths teacher. She was 30-odd and has mousy brown hair. She was not bad looking but was the most boring woman in creation. She was average height and average build. Mean average. There was no animation in her voice. Even her hair. She could tint it blonde or die it chestnut but she left it the drabbest colour. She never wore makeup. She could make so much more of herself.
Sean had not been in the valley long when he was informed that he would be given the day off teaching for reflection. The school had a policy of teachers spending a day with monks and discussing the spiritual side of life. Sean was delighted to have some respite from his loathsome lower sixth.
Sean went to the appointed room in one of the old low rise, sandstone buildings up the hill from the main school building. It was a room with a pale fitted carpet and aqua marine walls decorated with paintings of pastoral scenes. It was cool and fragrant. The ambience was conducive to calm. He had been a tad concerned that the priests might rabbit on about iniquity the whole time.
Fr Regulus was there. ”Good morning Sean” he said in a bland and tranquil Scottish voice. Regulus was in his late twenties. He had a ruddy baby face and dark brown hair. This chubby man would be their spiritual guide for the day. He wore large glasses with a tortoise shell rim.
”Good morning Father Regulus”
”Oh I am very well thank you.”
Lisa Penn came along. ”Hello” she said chirpily in her nasal voice. Sean caught a whiff of nicotine off her. She wore her trademark black skirt and dark top.
Mrs McGinn came along too. She was a slender woman in her late 30s and taught technology. Mrs McGinn was surprisingly feminine for someone who taught that subject. She had reddish skin and black hair that she wore in a bob. She wore a beige trouser suit. She was unobjectionable though banal. Technologists are like that.
Then Mrs Oliver arrived. She was a short and svelte woman in her 40s with mid brown hair and a vivacious manner. She always wore makeup but this was not quite enough to concel the wrinkles wrought by rearing four children. ”Good morning everyone” she greeted them cheerfully. Her voice was as dulcet as one would expect from a woman who taught French and Spanish.
”So everyone” began Fr Regulus, ”today we will briefly remember the man who was the founder or at least the reviver of the order in England. Then we are going to have an introduction to the monastic tradition. It will also allow you to contemplate spirituality in your own lives. ” His talk was remarkably interesting considering he was speaking about the dullest lifestyle of all: monasticism. Sean was cognisant that soon enough the order would be non existant. This was because there were two deaths per year and one vocation. It would not be extant in 50 years. He would not be so smart arsed as to draw this to the attention of the kindly and mild mannered Regulus.
At the end Regulus asked,”are there any questions?”
Sean chose not to delve into the most fundamental questions such as why we should believe in the supernatural at all. He was a freethinker but chose to keep this to himself.
”Yes”, said Sean ,”Are monks in your order allowed to grow beards?”
”The Benedictines have no set rule on this. It depends on the house. In our religious house we say it must be one thing or the other: either fully shaven or a full beard. As it happens all 80 monks choose to be clean shaven at the moment. Other Benedictine religious houses say all clean shaven. Others might leave it up to the individual.”
”I have a question” asked Mrs Oliver, ”What is a priory?”
”Good question. So we are an abbey. That is an independent monastery and the monk in charge is called an abbot. In the case of nuns having and abbey the head nun is called an abbess.”
Then Fr Regulus introduced a song to listen to. ”I think this is like a teenage vision of God.” It was then played. A reedy American man sang a schmaltzy tune. The canticling was agreeable but not memorable.
Along came another monk who was involved in the day. He was Fr Kenneth – a man in his early 30s with chubby., ruddy cheeks and dense brown hair at the back and sides of his very round skull. Fr Kenneth was as close to a vision of Friar Tuck as one can imagine. He spoke with a southern English accent and was very jovial. The Unhappy Valley seemed a lot more cheerful with these folks around. There was no denying the decency of Fr Kenneth. His belief in Catholicism had moved him to be honest, generous and helpful.
As for there being silent orders of monks ”it is a myth”
Fr Colin took them for luncheon. Fr Colin was a spry man approaching 50. His light brown hair was short and carefully brushed. He was a jogger and it showed. He was a very upbeat person who spoke quickly and was remarkable approachable for a monk. He brought them to a small dining room in the complex of low rise buildings up the hill from the main school building.
”Here we are” said Fr Colin leading them into a small dining room with a round table. There was a parquet floor. ”Why don’t you sit nearest the window” he said to Sean. Colin spoke in a slight Mancunian accent.
They all sat down and then Fr Colin briefly said grace. ”Tough day at school” he said sanguinely ”but it is nothing compared to my last job. Before I joined the order I was a prison chaplain.”
”What was that like?” said Sean.
”Not always easy” COlin laughed. ”Sometimes the job of a chaplain in a prison is just to listen. A lot of these people are recidivists – they have been in and out of prison all their lives. If a man is on a life sentence it is very hard to convince him of God’s love for him. I remember one man I knew had been put away for murder and he used to say to me ‘I want to be hanged.’ Puts my trouble with fifth form in perspective” he chortled.
A maid served them their provender.
Mrs Oliver spoke up ”Fr Colin I hear you speak Italian.”
”Well yes when I was a seminarian I spent a year at the Venerabile. After a year in Rome my Italian was not bad.”
”Well I never learnt it as such but teaching French and Spanish I can have a fair guess at it.”
”Well we should speak it some other time because it would be impolite to speak it and exclude everyone else form the conversation” he said
”Quite right” said Mrs Oliver.
”I remember I went on a retreat last year and there were some real puritans there” said Mrs McGinn ”There was a woman who said women must never wear trousers because it is too tempting for men”
”Oh no nutters – no nutters. Can’t stand them. Unfortunately as a priest we attract a lot of them” said Fr Colin.
Sean reflected that the whole thing was nuts. However, Colin was as genial as one could wish to find. He was the best face of the church. He was not stuck up and he was a friend to all. He was there to serve people. He was the sort of man to attract people to the church and not there to think that he was so holy or clever. Some monks were clearly refugees from adult life. Some of them were old boys of the school who could not face growing up.
After luncheon there was another talk from Fr Regulus. He then told them they would be given half an hour to walk around and write down their thoughts. ”Your thoughts are not going to be taken in to be marked. It is private. It is just a chance for you to note down your inmost feelings. But I do ask that you spend the next 30 minutes in silence. ” He then handed them all paper and pencil.
Sean walked out of the building as did the others. They went to different parts of the school. Sean walked up the hill. There was a minor road that skirted the edge of the school grounds. Some old farm buildings lay alongside the road. Sean crossed the road and into the forest known as monk’s wood. He walked up a path. It was dark due to the many trees obscuring the October sun. Sean walked all the way up the hill to the edge of monk’s wood. There was a rusting barbed wire fence. Beyond it was a field of pasture where sheep grazed contentedly. He walked down the darkling food. There were leaves and conkers on the ground. Then he saw Lisa smoking.
”Lisa” he said.
”Oh hi Sean” she broke the silence too.
”How is it going?”
”Today? Wonderful . It is a lovely break. A chance to get away from some difficult classes and Murphy.”
”Yes everyone says he is a total arsehole.”
”He is. How is it in your department.”
”Ok. Fr Ethelwulf is very reasonable. SOme of the classes are troublesome but overall it is fine. ”
”The WIFFEN is not doing too well.”’
”You are right I know. She missed a few lessons. Lots of the students say she is drinking in class. In the morning I swear I got a sniff of vodka off her. I remember down the pub someone bought her one drink and she almost fell of her chair she was so smashed.”
”Yeah I know. I remember very first time I met her she was wasted. I was at university with her.”
”Oh of course you were at Oxford.”
”Yes she is so much fun but a nutcase.”
”Well Ethelwulf is pissed off with her. She has been warned. I met her in January when we came for interview and there was snow everywhere. She got offered the job. I did not. Then they contacted me and Abel and offered us jobs too. But hey I know you said it is going badly for you but everyone knows that PGCE year is a really difficult year. You are doing very well considering. You are teaching full time and doing a PGCE. Murphy is just jealous of you because you went to Oxford and he didn’t”
” Oh thanks Lisa that is the encouragement I need. It is very, very hard. I wonder how much longer I can put up with it. I have got to stay a second year. Got to see out the contract. ”
Towards evening the reflection group reconvened. There was another discussion. Fr Kenneth cracked out the red wine – one of the few laudable things about the Catholic Church. Sean drank two glasses of the blood of our lord and saviour.
Sean would go to the staff room when he had a spare moment. He would peruse the Daily Telegraph. Those were the days when newspapers were actually bought in hard copy. A chubby faced Drama teacher noticed him there a few times. ”That is your seat” he chuckled. Sean was a creature of habit and so he tended to plonk himself in the same spot each time.
There would always be a notice on the noticeboard ”So and so has been internally suspended. His housemaster is aware of the circumstances”. The skinny Fr Colin would come in – immaculate and gel haired. ”Suspended. FOR WHat? Could be for buggering a sheep” he said tartly.
One Friday the inspector from Buckingham was due.
Sean was teaching a high ability 3rd form. They were mostly well behaved. If one of them spoke out of turn Sean had to simply shoot the pupil a reproachful glance and the behaviour was suppressed.
The man came in late. Half way through the lesson. Sean carried on as normal.
They then had a chat
Mr Mayweather was somewhat over the fifty mark. He had thick grey hair liberally sprinkled with schoolmasterly dandruff and was clean-shaven. He had a kindly, slightly runnelled face and a pink hue. He was a little stooped and wore a grey jacket, pale blue shirt that was fairly faded and an ancient green tie. His black flannel trousers had served him well for many the year as had his slip on brown leather shoes.
”Sorry I am late there was traffic on the road” said the man in a mild northern accent. ”You call all the pupils by their names. That is good. You control the class. They like and respect you.”
”Thank you Mr Mayweather”
”I was given your file by Mr Murphy and I have been going through the documentation. Now could you give me your lesson plans?”
”Yes, sir” said Sean. He went to a pile on a table and picked up a sheaf of scores of lesson plans. He handed them to Mr Mayweather.
Mr Mayweather’s face registered unpleasant surprise. ”Right I shall look through these later at my leisure.”
After luncheon Sean had to dash to the house to do duty. Pinfold was there. The boy resembled a Dickensian street urchin but of the most unlovable kind.
Mr Mayweather later watched Sean teaching a couple of other lessons.
It was a day from hell. He had house duty as well.
They met in Murphy’s office after luncheon
”I hope you do not mind me wearing sports clothes for this. I have a gym duty in a minute”
”No that is a quite sensible way of using the time” said Mayweather. Overall it seemed to be a highly successful inspection visit. Sean was not rebuked in anyway but there were a few suggestions for improvement.
There was house duty in the evening.
Sean hurried back after house duty. It was 11 pm. He reached the White Swan. There by arrangement were his parents.
He gave them a hug. He was exhausted but in good spirits. ”Have you had something to eat?”
”No,” they said. The kitchen was closed when we got here.
Sean brought them the quarter of a mile to his cottage. He showed them his kitchen and had them help themselves as he collapsed into the sack.
SATURDAY DOWN THE SWAN.
Sean introduced his parents to his pals.
Sean’s Dad – Anthony – greeted Abel warmly. Abel was delighted to meet someone who feigned fascination in his fixations. Discussing the Catholic Church Anthony was usually delightfully astringent. On this occasion he chose to bite his lip. Being an agreeable sort Anthony would agree with whomever he was speaking to. He was a political weather vane. Anthony was a man for whom the term doublethink might have been invented. At times Anthony had parked his bottom on the ultramontane side.
”I had a letter from the cardinal secretary of state. He is a Polish-American chappie. ANyway he functions as the Prime Minister of the Vatican City. He was responding to my request to refound the Papal zouaves. You know they were a mid 19th century unit – they defended the Papal states from the French. Some of these zouaves were French. But loyalty to mother church comes before any national loyalty. They wore a North African uniform. The height of fashion at the time with baggy trousers , curious headgear and a tassle. We would fight secularism. I shall be commissioned to be captain general.”
”Where do you stand on clerical marriage?”
”Not in favour. I know it is not an infallible doctrine. Some popes were married. Teaching on this changed a thousand years ago. That is the blinking of an eye in ecclesiastical terms. I know exemptions have been granted to some African priests. There is a Catholic priest who is married and runs a prep school called Farnham. He is a former Anglican – crossed the Tiber. A bit hard on the priests who have to observe chastity. A priest should not do anyone. I do not care whether that is his housekeeper or his curate.”
Sean introduced his parents to Columbanus.
Anthony immediately clocked Columbanus’ Ulster accent. Anthony greeted him by saying in an Ulster accent, ” I am from Ballymoney county Antrim. ”
Anthony carried on in this accent for a couple of minutes. Columbanus fell for it totally since pater did the accent very convincingly. He then returned to his soft Limerick accent. ”I was only having you on – I am a Limerickman.” Columbanus thought it droll to have been hoodwinked. Anthony was superb at accents. There was much Paddy Whackery. The conversation continued in this vein.
”I was in a band as a child. It was a family firm. We used to sing in Irish sometimes.” said Columbanus.
”Wow impressive.” said Sean ”Do you speak Ulster Scots?” he asked sniggering.
”Ulster-Scotch? Not a language at all – just bad English. English with spelling mistakes. Do not dingify it by even calling it a language. Loyalists just invented that to get a few pounds and because they are pissed off that we have a real language.”
Sean’s grandfather had been a noted player of the accordion. Sadly musical talent did not operate on the homeopathic principle that the greater the dilution of the gene in one’s blood the more pronounced it is. The kindest one could say of Sean’s musical virtuosity is that he was tone deaf.
Anthony continued the conversation with Columbanus. Anthony was a people person. He was so talented at establishing a rapport with just about anyone. Sean felt he was a pale shadow of his very gregarious father. This is why his friends were ubiquitous. Anthony had worked in the United States, Bahrain, Russia and Nigeria.
Sean introduced his parents to Jack Guinness who was a drama teacher. Jack was a tad discomposed that a man he did not know knew his name.
The CHEMISTRY man was downing wine by the bottle – from the bottle.
The Griffin was there. The cuts on her face had healed only slightly. People gave her a wide berth. She had the thousand yard stare and a still quivering lip. It was an oddity that she was served at all. Perhaps she had front loaded with vodka before coming to the alehouse. She was rumoured to carry a hip flask with her and did not get many miles to the gallon. Her dypsomania was to blame for the scars on her face. Sean was worried lest people think she had had a domestic with someone she was rumoured to be exchanging fluids with – i.e. him.
The next say they drove to the ruined abbey two miles away. It was officially closed for the winter. They climbed over the knee height wall and walked around. The roof had been pulled off when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. The joke doing the rounds about the ruined abbey was ”when they get the roof back on that one it will be the new girls’ house.” That gag Sean found irresistible. He retailed it to his radio rentals who enjoyed it but managed to contain a belly laugh.
MEETING WITH MURPHY
Sean went in for his weekly meeting with Mr Murphy. Murphy’s funereal face was the last one he wished to see.
”The main thing to discuss is the recent visit of Mr Mayweather” said Murphy sniffling.
”Well he was happy in some areas. You dress the part. You maintain appropriate relationships with students at all times. You know their names and you keep order. There are other areas where he is not satisfied. Planning, organisation, sticking to the curriculum. It is not rocket science”
Murphy showed Sean a list of 10 areas of assessment. Murphy recommended that Sean pass in 5 out of 10 areas. ”You need to pass in all 10 areas by the end. That is a heck of a big ask.” He pushed out his lips and stretched them to the right.
Sean thought back to a job interview he had had in Cambridge several months earlier. He had been met by the head of department. Within seconds of meeting him he knew that he and this man would not get on at all. The man was clearly very uptight. He was very thin: control freak. His beard was carefully trimmed. Sean was pogonophobic. His clothes were frighteningly tidy as was the History Department. Wanker. Sean’s lesson was observed. A few minutes in the man raised his eyebrow significantly. In that instant Sean knew he had not got the job. And so it proved. It was a good one not to get. This place was similar. It had been a calamity to be given this job. Better on the dole? Happier certainly. He could have bee reading for the bar in Ireland.
Sean was able to answer the suicide bomb question. If you were terminally ill and if by suicide bomb you could take just one bastard down with you who would it be? The answer was most definitely Murphy. It is a question worth asking yourself.
This cunt had done so much to immiserate Sean. He truly wanted this arsehole to die in agony. Good people die every day in their millions. Why mourn the death of an evil bastard? This man was the bane of his life.
MISS CAVANAGH ON THE NEW GIRLS’ HOUSE
She said that the new girls’ house was supposed to open that September. ”But not enough people signed up to go there so they had to delay it. They said the building was not ready yet.” Yet again the Catholic Church would lie to make money. So much for high ethical standards.
Sean noticed the ‘Not in my name’ badge on her lapel. Like many lefists she wore her opinions on her sleeve. Sean recalled how when the liberation of Iraq had commenced he had worn a ‘George W Bush’ badge for a few days to signal his support for rescuing the Iraqi people.
”Ah, I see you are anti-war. What a badge” Sean commented. ‘Anti-war’ when ‘pro-Saddam’ would have been more accurate.
”Ah yes, I am in the Labour Stop the War group” her faced was wreathed in smiles. ”I am an anti imperialist.”
Anti-imperialist – tell that to the Kurds. It was staggering that a member of the Labour Party – the Labour Party – should be desperate to keep the world’s most genocidal Nazi in power. Logic and decency were in short supply on the far left.
Down the White Swan Sean met Lanky Frank.
A football match was on the screen. Frank was tucking into something as he sat beside Sean. Frank was 6’3” , approaching 40 and his skin was fair. His thick brown hair was feckled with grey. He had a long, diabolonial face. Frank had the pale blue eyes of a serial killer.
”Hi there my name is Frank” said the man extending his hand
”Hi I am Sean. How are you doing?”
”Just great thanks. You live around here now?” said Frank in a faintly growly voice.
”Yes, I am new. Just moved in this August.”
”You like football do you?”
”No, I don’t care really. I will watch the world cup.”
”Oh right. So what do you think of all these black people moving into England?”
”Does not bother me. There are the same as whites. No better, no worse.”
”No mate we are a different species.”
”We are not a different species. The differences between us are tiny – just appearance.”
”Even if it is only 1 in 1 000 parts of our DNA that still makes a big difference.”
”Well I had a black girlfriend. I would happily have had a baby with her.”
”It would be cruel of you to bring such a monstrosity into the world as a mixed race child.” His voice was strained and full of hatred.
”That is not the way at all.”
”I was in the army for 12 years. We had some nigger soldiers and they were all lazy and thick.” He gurned his face into an expression of sheer odium.
”Well I have met many black people who are not like that and some whites are.”
”What about Muslims? They boast they want to take over our country.”
”Well it is good that they are allowed to preach their religion. We have free speech. I used to live in Saudi Arabia.”
”Yeah but come on you had no free speech there.”
”We used to live in a special fence off town for foreigners.”
”Ah segregation. That is what I want.”
”Well I do not.”
”Come on the elite bring in black to ruin the working class. English people cannot get jobs.”
”Most English people have jobs. You are for the working class. Are you a Labour supporter?”
”No, I am not a communist. I am BNP me.”
”Oh my God.”
”I am one eighth Jewish so I recognise that Muslims are a threat.”
”Isn’t there a contradiction in being Jewish and in the BNP”
”No, Jews are clean and hard working people. ”
”But come on the BNP are Nazis and anti Jewish.”
”The Nazis never did anything to the Jews. Don’t you believe the holohoax.”
”What? How can you deny it?”
”Believe me I am an academic. I lecture in Russian and I have seen the archives. There was no Holocaust.”
”You are daft mate.” said Sean
”Daft? I was in the SAS. they would not let in anyone who was daft.Well we do not agree on much. What about the future of England?”
”I am Irish so I do not care about England as such. ” Frank nodded – he could thoroughly understand that, ”I care for the British Isles which includes Ireland and England.”
”Well what we going to do when the final battle against the Muslims comes? You know backs to the wall? It is going to have to get nasty. And you can forget about the Geneva Convention?”
”Right Frank, I have had enough of this. Let’s not speak” he proffered his hand. Frank shook it reluctantly and Sean walked off. He later found out that Frank really had been in the SAS. He was a lecturer at the local university. He had survived several attempts to sack him for his published views.
MR Marwood – head of ART.
Mr Marwood was a chubby middle aged man. He was bald and swag bellied. He had a very calm demeanour. He was one of the most amiable people around. Marwood had been there for over 20 years. His two sons attended the school and were also likable.
”I started here in the 80s. There were some monks who had never been out the valley. They were at the prep school, then here and then the monastery. The 60s had completely passed them by. Boys would smoke cannabis right in front of them. The monks had no idea what it was. I did not tell them. Bloody hilarious!”
Sean chortled too. He moved on to another unique aspect of the place. ”I was surprised when I found out they do not have uniform here. Maybe it is a good thing.”
”I like it. Makes the place unique. Good for art. No regimentation. Just like artists never make soldiers and vice versa.”
”One thing about uniform is it gave me something solid to push against. It was harmless. What have they got to kick against? Maybe that is why the play up in class. They cause trouble in a worse way.”
”There may be something in that” said Marwood.
BEING OBSERVED BY MISS CAVANAGH.
This childist came into the classroom. She thought she was so perfect. The consummate schoolmarm. She sat at the back and took notes zealously. Miss Cavanagh was the worst sort of overgrown schoolgirl – pettifogging and neurotic.
Afterwards Sean spoke to her.
”Your lesson needs to be more focused on the requirements of the exams.” She was all post it notes and smiley faces. Miss Cavanagh had nary a good word to say about him. Her nit picking drove him mad. ”I was a troop leader in the girl guides” she boasted insipidly. ”I got an award from Princess Anne!” she smiled like a 10 year old at prize giving. It struck Sean as incongruous that she vaunted such fleeting connections with royalty. It sat oddly with her avowed left wing mindset. It seemed nothing of substance could be extracted from her self-satisfied smarmy self.
Sean had to watch some of her lessons. It amused him no end to think that he was supposed to learn from someone who could neither spell nor pronounce ordinary English words. There were plenty of honking factual errors. But we live in an era of post modern truth.
HOUSE TUTORS’ MEETING
Sean did not mind the house tutors’ meeting overmuch. This took place a’Monday after luncheon. The main topic of the conversation was the occupants of the house – horrible though some of them were this did not upset Sean. Fr Augustine would speak in his tenor register. Sean could not get over how meretricious the man was. The true measure of life was a man’s purity – so a monk should believe. Yet the man robed in righteousness was a shameless deceiver.
Sean spoke to Fr Augustine about how detestable Pinfold was. He did not acutally use a word such as detestable in relation to the toe rag. ”Well his mother went through a fairly messy divorce. The father lives in Scotland now. Mr George takes Pinfold beagling and cannot speak highly enough of him.”
It was as though Pinfold wanted to be abominated. He was contramundum. Sean never once saw the boy smile. Stupid, ugly, weak, idle and unpopular – his own mother couldn’t love him. And didn’t. He had fuck all to smile about.
”We have a survey to go around in the next meeting with your tutees. To be filled in anonymously. It is about bullying. ”
Sean met his tutor group. He told them there was a form to be filled out anonymously and without discussion.
Stephen E – W complained bitterly about how outrageous it was that racist bullying was to be discouraged.
Later Sean led his group to assembly in gym atop the hill. The spread out and hurried off. Sean was not really with them. He fell into conversation with Burley Wookey. The boy was decent a deux. Sean foolishly vouchsafed that a certain colleague made his life hell. Burley Wookey often played up in class but now he was deeply sympthetic. There was no question as to his sincerity.
Fr Michael droned through his bland announcements with especial emphasis on any S sounds. Mr Brown was hovering over the lectern and delivered his announcements with verve and in thrilling cadences. He resembled a scrum half poised over the ball as he was about to pick it up and deliver a perfect spin pass to the fly half. As usual Mr Murphy stood with his arms folded looking for all the world as though he was going through torment. Sniffle – clear the adinoids – purse the lips out and then stretch them to the right, to the right never the left.
Sean swore to exact literary revenge on Murphy. He would mercilessly satirise him and his cursed sinuses.
Saturday luncheon in the refectory was sparsely attended. Many pupils were away at matches or having luncheon with their parents.
Staff and pupils usually sat on different tables. There was no rule about this. A boy named Tom Jermyn sat beside Sean. The boy was in lower sixth he was short and inclined to chubbiness.
”Hello there sir” said Tom sounding very upbeat.
”Hello what is your name?
”Jermyn sir – Tom”
”I see. Pleased to meet you.”
”Sir I heard you went to Winchester”
”That is right”
Sean could see Tom’s face was full of respect.
”I am studying MacBeth with Miss Bishop. It has inspired me to write a play about the school.”
”Oh yes. A tragedy?”
”Place is tragi comical” he said drolly.
Jermyn was brainy enough to appreciate that.
”Anyway – Mr Brown really runs this place not Fr Michael”
”That is certainly true” said Sean unguardedly ”the real power behind the throne”
”A very shakespearean situation”
”I have entitled by theatrical masterpiece MacBrown. There is also an evil woman named Lady MacBrown. She used to teach my last year.”
Sean could barely contain his chortles.
”Then there are some monks. Monk Stacked – that is Fr Michael because he lifts weights”
”Yes I heard that. I was at university with some boys who had been in St Olaf’s.”
”And then there is Monk Tall who is Fr Augsutine”
”You must let me read it. There should be a jackanapes in it called Murphy.”
Sean and Jermyn got on famously. He was the sort of schoolboy whom Sean liked. Clever and irreverent. It was a boost to Sean’s flagging moral. Here was a pupil who admired him.
DOWN THE SWAN.
That Saturday down the White Swan Sean met Abel’s father.
In the background Sean saw a parent – a Texan oilman in a ten gallon hat.
”Hello there Sean. I would like to introduce you to my father.”
”Hello” said a spare middle aged man with tight brown curls and sunken cheeks. ”Helly my name is Sven”
”Good evening I am Sean” he shook hands.
Sven wore smart casual. ”Well it is quite a contrast here. I work in Brussels. I am an economist for NATO.”
”Wow must be fun to work there.”
”It is but it is an office. I would rather be an academic but there is no money in that.”
Sven was convivial though serious minded. He seemed to be the sort of man who enjoyed jokes but never told them. Such an evening made Sean feel buoyant again.
On weekday afternoons there was tea in the refectory. Not many people ate there but Sean occasionally did.
He often spoke to the cleaners who are there. Some were Spanish and some were Polish. Some of the pupils were openly racist towards them. This was especially true of Stephen E W.
Sometimes there would be some monks there. Sean remembered that by no means were they all ecclesiastical grotesques.
Sean indulged himself by getting up late. He had a cooked breakfast. He walked to school. He made sure to be there and out of sight by the time the others went to mass. He saw Abel leading his family to mass wearing a silk top hat. His bearing was soldierlike since he was on display mode.
Sean saw some of the sexy mums and felt a certain swelling. They were in smart skirt suits, coiffed and with their makeup tastefully done – not overdone. Perhaps he could catch a divorcee on the rebound. Plus she would have money. A 30 something might be pleased to bag a boy 10 years her junior. Otherwise she might be looking at a man 20 years her senior who could scarcely get it up. Some of the ladies were ones for whom the word milf should have been invented. There was not too much middle aged spread. Their were affluent – ladies who lunch. Many of them had sessions with their personal trainer.
Sean did some work in his classroom. Then he walked down Big Passage towards the library. He was always struck by the gigantic oil painting that commanded a view down the passage. It was of Dom Peter Chamberlayne – the headmaster for 25 years who had died at his desk. Back then there was no foostering with ‘value added’ or ;esson plans. It really was a school of the Lord’s service and not there to massage the egos of parents or pupils.
Sean would chat to his tutor group in a Friday lesson before going to assembly. He went over their subjects. Trouble about these sessions is all seven of them were there. No one could come to him with a private issue.
”Will” Sean said to Stoke ”so you are applying for an army scholarship. Great!” he feigned enthusiasm almost convincingly.
”Yes” Stoke brightened. For once he was out of sardonic mode.
”Well that will be fantastic if you get it. I am all for it. I have every confidence in you.” said Sean. He wanted to add that he would be sending a donation to Al Qa’eda. This cunt would be sent to Iraq in a few years. A slug neatly planted between the eyes? No. Sean wanted there to be an IED with Stoke’s name on it. No, don’t kill on him. That would be too painless. No need to go easy on this anal fistula of a boy. What not have him quadra spazzed. That would be right – paralysed from the neck down and eating through a straw for the rest of his days. It was a curious irony that Stoke who was not short of grit and physical courage was so lacking in backbone. He had no moral courage at all. He would always join the pack. Stoke cowered in public. He would never brave the disapproval of his peers. Never thought of thinking for himself at all. This despicable youth prided himself on being a Catholic – not that it brought any virtues in him. Would he remain a Catholic if it were to his disadvantage? If everyone else converted to something else would he remain true? No, he was a total faint heart.
There was Magnus with nothing to say for himself. He boy was unobtrusive. He had no thoughts. Magnus had never read to the end of a page let alone a book. The boy had had a personality bypass – so it seemed. His one gift if it can be called that was in messing up magic tricks. Unlike Tommy Cooper this was not studied incompetence. Magnus was a harmless fool but what was a brain dead 17 year old doing in school? There was street outside that needed sweeping.
It riled Sean to hear his pupils mouthing off their racism and disdain for the Polish cleaners. These women were far more admirable than some of his pupils. Hearing some of the boys and girls yammering away ungrammatically hurt his ears. The cleaners, by contrast, spoke fluent English to a man – or rather to a woman. They spoke better than some of his pupils and they achieved this without the benefit of a pricey education given to his toffee nosed pupils. What his pupils were mostly too ignorant to know is that these Poles were Catholics almost all of them. If Catholicism was the pole star of these pupils they ought to feel solidarity for their Polish co-religionists.
There was a Slovak art teacher called. Vaclav. Sean got on very well with this gangly chap. He spoke good English but with a heavy accent.
Then his wife came out to join them. She was a good looking girl of 23 but had a deep voice.