SHOPPING TRIP TO YORK.
Monday was a very easy day for Sean. He had only one lesson. But it was not good to have so much free time on one day. The more free time one has the more one tends to squander it. Spacing breaks evenly is better. One is much more efficient with time in short breaks. There was the added confusion of A weeks and B weeks. The school had a 12 day timetable. Sean knew he was going to screw up some time and assume it was an A week when it was a B week or vice versa.
Monday afternoon he was free. He walked back to the village and changed into ordinary clothes. He had consulted the timetable on the bus stop. There were two buses a day to York. This was his only chance in the week to go to the big city. The bus pulled up outside the alehouse on time and he boarded it.
It was an hour winding along country lanes and stopping at every crossroads. Sean took the chance to drink in the deep green beauty of the wild land. There were many dry stone walls and many pale grey houses dating back centuries.
At last the bus deposited him in York. He had a good walk around. It was a city he had not properly visited since he had gone for an interview at the university 7 years earlier. He walked past the Minster. He strolled down some of the ancient streets and around the historic precincts. He walked a bit of the mediaeval walls. He remembered certain spots from a school trip at the age of 13. Then he and Horace from prep school had chatted in French. It was a delight to be able to speak another language and they were among only 3 pupils in the school who could sustain a conversation in that language. He dipped into a shop and bought some stimulus material.
Sean wandered the storied streets. Some walls dated back to Roman times. The place was replete with history. He mused on the monks. It was odd that this order chose to be halding. Most intensely holy men whether Hindus, Muslims Jews or Christian wore beards.
After a couple of hours it was time to leave one of the most storied cities in the realm. He reluctantly boarded a bus to bucolic exile. On the bus he sat opposite a hefty middle aged woman. She was plain and kindly. She had mid brown hair and vicious fringe. Her complexion was that of a sailor. She wore a plaid shirt and pale blue jeans on her thunder thighs. It said much for Sean’s desperation that despite recognising this woman was undesirable he still wondered whether he could seduce her. They fell into conversation.
Bizarrely the dialogue turned to ghosts. Sean did not believe in such nonsense. But sometimes at night walking along that unlit lane he was not so sure!
”Thing about ghosts is no one ever said they harmed people.”
”No, you are right” said the woman quietly. ”What do you do up here?”
”Oh I teach at the boarding school. How about you?”
”I don’t work. We have three small children and my husband is a vicar so he is very busy.”
”Oh is he. Does this bus go all the way to Amblefifth?”
”No, it stops at my village. That is 5 miles from your place a fair old schlep and it looks like it is going to rain. ”
”Oh that is a shame”
”I will get my husband to give you a lift”
They got out at a very handsome little village with a fine looking Anglican church. The vicarage stood right beside it. It was an equally attractive building of pale stone and centuries old. The woman led Sean into the house. The kitchen was spacious and old red and yellow tiles tessellated the floor. There was an Aga and there were many old framed paintings on pale blue the walls.
”Hello Ralph. I met this young man on the bus. He needs a lift back to AMBLEFITH. You would not mind driving him would you?”
Ralph was a man in his 40s with thick rimmed glasses. His light brown hair was tending towards grey. He wore a rumpled shirt and black slacks. He was a slim and good looking man. Sean wondered why he had married such a personable though unattractive female. Love is blind.
”Oh yes certainly” he said in a genteel northern English accent. In a minute they were in the vicar’s car and he was driving Sean back. Corporal works of mercy. This was what Christianity was supposed to be about and not endless point scoring about abstruse points of ancient dogma.
That evening Sean walked to the school. He dined in the refectory as he did almost every night. It was such a fillip to his moral to have been to the big smoke if only for a couple of hours. He had no driving licence but now he knew he was not completely stranded.
Dr Shilling sat down opposite him. ”Hi how you doing Sean?”
”Oh really well” he smiled ”I went to York today.”
”You are not ill are you?”
”Oh not at all never felt better”
”You missed the house meeting today” said Dr Shilling in a neutral tone.
”Oh my God!” said Sean ”Sorry, I am so sorry. It is all my fault.”
”Hey don’t worry about it. It is not that big a deal.”
Sean then went to write an email of apology to Fr Augustine. He was abject in his apology and stated how he knew this was not good enough. Augustine was decent and replied saying not to beat himself up.
There was a tall and very pallid boy in the class. He had red hair and rabbit eyes. He was likeable but thick as two short planks. He came early to a lesson and mumbled. ”Sir,. I got a bit of a problem sir and sometimes sir I really need to go to the loo sir – sometimes so please can I go if I am bursting sir?” There was something very childlike about this 16 year old. Sean agreed and contained his amusement. The boy’s name was Evan Christopher.
Later in the lesson the Walloon in the class ridiculed Evan ”he have pelouche de lit!”. The boy did not know the word for teddy bear.
THE WIFFEN FALLING APART.
The WIFFEN averted her eyes whenever she saw Sean. She appeared to be constantly atremble and distant. Supermarket delivery vans were seen going to her lone cot. Delivering vodka? Sean was not sanguine about her chances of surviving in the school. The WIFFEN walked around as if in a daze looking fatigued.
DINNER WITH O DONOVAN
At the refectory one evening O DONOVAN was dining.
”Why did you decide to move up”
”Had not been promoted in 12 years”
Teachers are not content to be teachers. They have to be deputy head of department or IT co ordinator. All chiefs and no Indians. There has to be progression.
”I see. I heard you were at the place the WIFFEN taught”
”Well yes she did her teaching practice there but that was after I left. I came here last year”
”I see. You were known for your loud suits.”
”I always am a legend. Reminds me – one time I was going on a blind date. I was optimistic. I went to the chemist and bought some condoms from the girl on the counter. I went on the date. It was the same girl. She saw me and said ‘What kind of girl do you think I am?’ and stormed out.”
Sean got to know Davis – he was a diminutive Australian PE teacher. He was very personable but none too bright. He was 50 and had a croaky voice.
”I applied from Oz. They would not accept me without a face to face interview. They flew me all the way over for the interview. ”
”Wow expensive” Sean was staggered. Could they not find a PE teacher closer to home?
”Anyway got the job. So then my wife and I flew to Manchester in August to start. We took the train to York as instructed. Monks were meant to be there to meet us. But we looked around no monks. Then finally they came up to us. They were not in their monks robes. They one day they needed to wear them. They do not wear the habit away from the monastery. ”
AUGUSTINE ON MONASTICISM
”Fr Callixtus used to live as a full hermit near Hornby in the 60s. Now he lives as an anchorite in a cottage in the valley. They abbot says he has to come to mass on Sunday so he does.”
”When I was a boy here each priest would say mass. One boy would serve the mass in the crypt under the church . It is most wonderful thing. St Benedict – he had all the right ideas. You see this part of the habit to keep you clean. I like what he said we mean to lay down nothing burdensome but the good of all must incline us towards a little strictness.”
Sean later found out this was where a lot of the sexual abuse had gone on. One monk one boy no witnesses. During mass!
”We used to pray ‘ May the boys of this college all be learned , wise and sober virgins through the grace of the holy spirit. Amen’ ” It then struck Sean – Edmund had probably never had a snog.
Sean walked pass Junior House. It was no longer part of the school. It was overflow accommodation for the monastery. He saw some monks in pale blue habits and with beards shambling along. He saw a young man with an orange beard. ”Excuse me which order are you?”
”Franciscans of the renewal” he said in an overpowering Cockney accent. Working class London and the contemplative life seemed worlds away.
Sean came to know one of the pupils in his slow Third form set. Lucinda was an amiable pupil and confident too. She had mid brown long curls and fair skin with plenty of freckles. It advertised the fact that she was half Irish. She was perceptive but not good at writing – her dyslexia meant that she made plenty of mistakes.
There was a drinks party in a colleague’s house. This teacher of French and Spanish invited Sean along.
There was Lucinda with her parents. ”Hello sir” she said not a bit shyly.
”Hello Lucinda how you doing?”
”Very well we won at hockey today”
”Hello I am Commander Moss” said a short, spare middle aged man with short hair. He proferred his paw and Sean shook it. The man wore a blazer and an immaculately ironed shirt and pressed trousers. His penny loafers gleamed.
”Hello my name is Sean.”
”And what subject do you teach?”
”Ah History – I was fascinated by it but not much good at it. I was more of a Maths and Sciences guy. That is why I went into the Royal Navy.”
”I see and what sort of vessel are you on?”
”Wow what a responsibility”
”Yes it is a bit. Six months underwater. We can get messages from home but only 50 words a day and they censor it. Nothing upsetting. A woman can not tell her husband she is leaving him or something.”
”Oh my goodness that is hard”
”It is but I have the best naval wife in the world. Please allow me to introduce my wife. Sarah” he gestured towards a lissom 40 year old woman. Her complexion was exactly the same as her daughter.
”Hello” she said serenely. Sean shook her hand.
”Good evening Mrs Moss”
”Well I have heard a lot about you because she likes History and you teach in a lively way. Anyway when she was at Croftanloan it was one of her better subjects.”
”Croftanloan. I used to play them I was at school in Scotland”
”Our elder daughter is at Gordonstoun. We considered it for Lucinda but anyway she is big into Catholicism. Croftanloan is a Church of Scotland school. They could go to the Catholic church but they had to walk through the snow to do it and she insisted on going.”
”Wow well a martyr already”
”Exactly” the mother laughed.
Sean was then introduced to an old man with a lazy eye and a vicious face. They did not speak long before Sean was taken aside by the Modern Languages woman. ”That guy used to be in MI6. He is such a nice man but think of some of the things he has had to be involved in.”
Sean was minded to think that when it came to the secret service anything goes. If MI6 need to assassinate people so be it.
Modern Languages woman then introduced him to her husband.
”This is Geoff. Meet Sean” Geoff was 6’4” and very well built. He was very closely shaved and his short black hair was perfectly brushed. He had a swarthy complexion and a mathematically round face. He was so ox like that this did not make him appear to be fat. He wore a white shirt with blue hatching on it – it was excellently ironed. His dark brown cords were also very tidy. His brown docksiders were polished to a high shine.
”Hello Geoff how are you?”
”Really well thanks. You teach History do you?” Geoff spoke in a southern English accent. It was not working class but not RP either.
”Yes, that’s right. I teach your daughter Checky”
”Oh yes. Brilliant. What have you done? She never liked it before but said she is loving it now.”
”Wow thanks that is good to hear. My method it gets through to some people but loses others.”
”I can imagine. I used to be a teacher PE. I was at a Catholic boys’ school in Jersey. She was at the Catholic girls/ That is how we met” he said indicating his wife.
”I see. What do you do now?”
”I am a colonel”
”A colonel. I wish I could salute”
Geoff took the quip well.
”Yes well what I do not is defence diplomacy. Going to Sri Lanka and that”
”I see. ”
”I had a normal military career. Only time I saw action was in Afghanistan. Funnily enough that was when I gave up smoking. That was when most of our men started smoking even stronger substances to cope with the situation we were in.”
”I can imagine.”
”You should consider joining up. Better pay than teaching”
”I am no good at army stuff. I was in the CCF”
For some mild excuse there was a drinks party in the front hall one evening. Sean got chatting to Fr JAMES. He had a sonorous voice – the sort that comes from being a linguist. Only those with superb hearing and an excellent speaking voice can learn foreign tongues.
Fr JAMES mentioned ”I used to have a Polish girlfriend when I was at Cambridge and she taught me a bit of her language.”
”I see. It is scintillating to learn how all names mean something. Names are not just noises.”
”Well what does your surname mean?”
”It means strife. Just thinking how it links to the German straffe as in to punish.”
”Ah quite right – staffen.”
Fr JAMES was very convivial and full of vitality. It was hard to believe such a down to earth and garrulous man was a monk.
Some of the decrepit monks were there. One monk who was only middle aged was plainly very disabled and went around in an invalid vehicle. He had an ordinary face but it was as though it was squashed into a space that was far too small. His upper teeth hung out well over his lower lip. His mid brown hair was thin and his whole body appeared to be painfully weak. There but for the grace of God….
There was another such disabled monk but he was much older – in his 70s. He too was in a disabled vehicle. He was bald and such hair as remained was snow white. This geriatric led the singing at the holy office. He had a dulcet singing voice. Sean sometimes nipped in to hear the divine office. There were endless dreary and sychophantic hymns about human unworthiness. Er… who made us like that? The old man sung without God who would ”sustenebit” – survive?
Sean came to know a boy in St Olaf’s who was known as Stunning. He was a short 17 year old with a modest mien. Despite his Scots surname he lived in southern England. There was a curious connection between them. He respected Sean and Sean saw him as a decent chap.
Hart was also in St Olaf’s upper sixth. he had mid brown hair, fat lips and a mischievous face. He was not big and he was a typical public school thicko. Sean felt he recognised a kindred spirit in him. The boy was irreverent. On his wall a pair of knickers was pinned – someone had sent him her knickers. There was also a topless photo of a Big Brother contestant.
Then Hart began being disrespectful to Sean and addressing him by his Christian name. Sean demanded a letter of apology. Hart wrote one. Turned out he was thick as two short planks and could not write a sentence without making a mistake
”That is not an apology but an insult” Sean would say thrusting it back to him and making him redo it. It gave him pleasure to reject the effort. ”Who is ever going to give you a job.”
One who lacked basic literacy would get a degree – such is Blair’s Britain.
Sean came to know the Director of Studies. Loveday was a middle aged man who was bald but he allowed the brown hair at the back of his skull to grow too much. The man had plump lips and jaded eyes. He walked around without his jacket and with his sleeves rolled up much of the time. He had a high pitched voice and an unassuming manner. Like most people who filled this role he was a Maths geek. Loveday was bereft of interpersonal skills. He had a daughter in the school and a wife in the graveyard.
Sean was not in sympathy with Loveday. Oddly when he had inquired about the job his first response had been from Loveday ”we would be very interested in an application from you.” The man was as dull as ditchwater and joyless with it. He once sent out an email to all and sundry at 10 pm on Saturday night.
Sean was idling in the staff room when Abel came in.
”How is it going?” said Sean
”Pretty well. I had a class I was teaching them about ethics. Incest came up”
”As it does” Sean said flippantly.
”Well I asked if it was immoral they said yes. I said why? They said because it hugely increase the chances of a baby being born severely disabled. So I said what if both the man and woman have been sterilised? They said it is still wrong. But what if no one is getting hurt? They said it is just still inherently wrong and I find that interesting.”
”Better tell that to the Pakistanis. First cousins getting married all the time – what is why they have a massively higher rate of congenital deformity than anyone else. They are not allowed to meet members of the opposite sex apart from their cousins so they marry cousins. Cousins are the only people they know. This is how it would happen – I marry your sister and you marry mine. Then my daughter marries your son and your daughter marries my son. Then next generation down they cousins get married again. They keep reinforcing heritable weaknesses. A double dose of any bad genes is terrible for the children. All these recessive genes are then manifested. That is why they have bad phenotypes.”
”It is sick”
”What do Pakistanis do at Hallowe’en?”
”Pump kin” They laughed.
JOKES BY NEIL O DONOVAN
He said ”Sean there is something I have been meaning to give you for some time ” he fished around in his pocket ”it is some of this” and then gave him the middle finger
He said ”what is 6 foot long and is wrapped around a cunt?”
”I don’t know”
O DONOVAN whispered in his ear ”a turban”. Sean tittered at that. He realised this quip could be career terminal for the one who told it. He did not retail it.
Sean came to know Vesper. She was an American lacrosse coach but had little to do besides that. She was in her mid 20s and athletic as one would expect. Her lank blonde-brown hair hung down to her chink. She had a tanned oval face and a bland manner. Her mien was upright but lacking in confidence. She was diffident and her expression was toneless.
Down the pub Alexandra Bishop said ”Vesper gave me a birthday present. It was a very nice present but it was not accompanied with a smile”
”She is emotionally retarded” said Sean.
”Well she needs to develop some emotional intel fast. They are making her deputy housemistress since they took the house away from the WIFFEN.”
”I see. Well at least she is not going to get drunk and disgrace herself.”
”She does not drink at all. Comes here occasionally but never touches a drop.”
”Nothing wrong with that.”
Lisa Penn then chipped in ”I coach lacrosse with her and she is too authoritarian ‘stand on the line, stand on the line’ ” Lisa did an American accent.
Half term came not a moment too soon. He took a cab to York. He was driven by the voluble Frenchman.
Sean was delighted to board the train to Londinium. He had always associated trains with holidays and relaxation. He thrilled to see the countryside rushing by. Every mile he got from that school the freer he felt.
Arriving there was a blessed liberation. He was wandering crowded streets and seeing lights. The noise, the bustle, the possibilities, the life all exhilarated him. He went to lodge with his pal Kyrle.
It was a delight to switch off the alarm on his phone. No more getting up early and no more getting into a lather about pupils constantly interrupting him. He had to say ”please be quiet” hundreds of times per day.
They heard that Ken Clarke had been knocked out of the Conservative leadership race. Fucking brilliant. That eurofanatic had been smashed for a third time. He was not even a man of principle. In 1997 he had made an unholy alliance with John Redwood. Clarke would agree to be a eurosceptic in return for support. Clarke had said the Tory Party should not be the party of low tax – political heresy in Sean’s book. What was the point of the Tory Party if it attacked Labour from the left? WHy had he not joined Labour as he agreed with them so much? Sean reviled Clarke as a CINO – Conservative in Name Only.
Down the boozer conversation got going. Sean always picked Kyrle’s brains about Classics. Sean had been such a dunce at Latin that he had not even essayed to learn Greek. They talked about symposia – Greek dinner parties. ”They were all male affairs” said Kyrle. It was said that the first bowl of wine was given to convivial conversation. The second was given to heated debate. The third to the swearing of oaths and the fourth to stupor.”
”I remember you said the four stages of drunkenness are jocose, bellicose, lachrymose and comatose”
”A hole in one.”
”So these Greek dinner parties – not women allowed. Did these Hellenes bugger each other?”
”At some point the chinking of glasses gave over to the, to the…”
”Chinking of arses!” said Sean. They both dissolved in chuckles
The next day Sean was wandering the damp streets of London. He studied its buildings avidly. He had come to know Oxford Street very well. He was surprised to find a Ukranian Orthodox Cathedral just off it. What was the closed high stone area doing in Mayfair?
He drank at Starbucks too much. Some of those drinks with cream were too fattening. Sean was very philosemitic. He was into finding synagogues. Not long before he had visited Bevis Marks Synagogue and been perplexed to find Disraeli’s seat roped off. Why adulate him? Was he not an apostate to the Judaic faith? He turned his coat for advancement. Admittedly this was aged 12 at the behest of his father but as an adult Benjamin could have returned to the religion of his childhood.
Someone had been handing out rubber little pigs in the street. Sean picked one and wore it in his breast pocket.
They went to a party at an art gallery. Kyrle was always gate crashing drinks parties around Cork Street. Galleries handed out free drinks to people coming to look at their paintings. As though these two deadbeats had a few thousand quid burning a hole in their pocket.
Sean and Kyrle swanned around the gallery. Sean still had the rubber pig in his breast pocket. A French girl a little over 19 noticed it and came up to him.
”I like your the pig” she said in a very Gallic accent. She had mid brown hair and wore plenty of butterly hairclips in it. Her top was a colour call crushed cardinal. She wore skinny jeans with it and slight heels. She was slender and some way above normal height.
”Merci je vous empris” he said
She was wowed that he spoke passable French. Beside her was a French boy of her age. He had black hair and a slight beard. He wore the compulsory French anorak and orange-brown trousers.
Sean did his best to flirt with her. She was amicable but he was getting nowhere.
Kyrle fell into a conversation with a British Indian woman.
”Hello my name is Mansukh Kaur” she said in a southern English accent.
”Hello there my name is Kyrle” said Kyrle shaking her hand. She was a tall woman of about 30. Her profuse black hair was worn piled up and she had too much makeup around her eyes. She wore a dark blue trouser suit and a vermilion blouse that did not suit her.
”Kyrle, I see. I am very pleased to meet you.”
”Thank you. How are you?”
”I am on excellent form. Been placing a lot of people in jobs so things are going great.”
”Oh you are a recruiter?” Kyrle’s ears pricked up since he was job hunting.
”Yes, I am. I recruit solicitors and barristers for law firms.”
”Ah… I am reading for the bar” said Kyrle. He smirked guiltily since he had just failed and was resitting.
”Oh I see. Well there are some law firms that I can place barristers in. I read Law myself but I decided not to pursue a career in it. I went into recruitment instead.” The woman sounded very sincere and not too eager to impress. She was pleasant though banal.
As they stumbled home half steamed Sean asked Kyrle ”Have you considered being a paralegal?”
”Of course not. It is unthinkable. Infra dignitate”
”Quite right. You went to Winchester and Oxford like me. So we have a three to one superiority over any paralegal.” He could well understand why it did not appeal. It was the ultimate admission of failure.
Sean sometimes reflected on how fortunate he was. Though he disliked his job he at least had options. Three generations some of his ancestors in Munster could only tend the lazy beds. They looked up the gentry in their open hall houses. The quality were the sorts who were Wykehamists and would go up to Varsity. Not for them the idle summer afternoon punting parties. His strawberries and cream existence was a world away from the endless toil in the wet and stony fields of his forbears.
Being stocious he became philosophical. Was there an incompatibility between himself and teaching? Perhaps he was tempermentally unsuited to this line of work. When he had discussed his first application a few years earlier his sister had conducted a mock interview. ”What are your weaknesses?”
”I might not be patient enough for the job.”
He had been on the money. He could hardly stand it. Why were so many ignorant fuckers doing History? Some were worse at other subjects. History was not conceptually difficult – just stories. He was disinclined to explain notions – he simply expected pupils to grasp them. The increasing distress he felt at walking into some classrooms made him doubt that he was in the right occupation. Teaching was a soft option. But Amblefifth appeared to be the ultimate disproof of that. This job was stressful. For that amount of dosh it should be unstressful. Conversely for that amount of stress it should be generously paid. Half of his pupils were moronic vulgarians, unworthy of him. Sneering at the absurdity of them thinking they would breeze into highly paid jobs because they had an expensive schooling was one of his few consolations.
WHy was he sticking with this sort of job? Was it stubbornness? He did not want to dominate. Some went into teaching because they liked to bully people. He loathed the policing side of people. He reminded himself that being a don was his metier manque. He wished to work with adults. He was constantly belittled by pupils and excoriated by his head of department. He found such withering criticism ever more difficult to shrug off. Murphy had an inexhaustible list of complaints to make.
Sean was resourceful. He could manipulate some classes. He had his clever lower sixth eating out of his hand. Even the uppity classes – he had had limited success in bending them to his will.
LUNCHEON WITH POWELL
Sean went to take luncheon with Joseph Powell. Powell was a chubby, rabbit faced old boy of Amblefifth. He had known Powell at Oxford. This buck toothed barrister was an incorrigible young fogey. Like Confucius Powell had been born at the age of 60. He was a Tory and a Catholic of the more humourless and severe kind. He had been president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. He was self-important prig but sometimes good company – in small doses.
Powell greeted him in a pub just outside Lincoln’s Inn. Powell was wearing a navy blue pin striped suit with a double breasted waistcoat. He had four undoable buttons on the cuffs. His style was old school rather than dapper. His tie was a conservative shade of green. His shirt was powder blue He wore an unmatching yellow handkerchief in his left breast pocket.
”How is it going?”
”Well all right” said Sean shaking his hand. ”I get on well with some classes. Other classes – frankly I am at war with them. I dread opening the door.”
”How is it with Murphy?”
”Not good at all. Hate his guts.”
”He is a tosser. We had no respect for him. When I was there the behaviour was so bad the head of department had to come in all the time.”
”I see. Well he is a total prick and constantly undermining me. He is forever assigning me futile tasks like writing my own textbook. He thinks I have the anti Midas touch. Everything I do is wrong.”
” Is Fr Francis there?”
”That waxwork?” said Sean. Powell started laughing.
”Yes he is” said Sean. ”They had to assure people he would retire next year otherwise no one would take his subject”
”What will you have?” Sean was ordering beer.
”No nothing for me”
”Oh come on you square”
”No thanks. I never drink on duty”
”You are not a bobby”
”Come on – shack, shack red and black” even the rugger cheer would not tempt him
”No not a drop.”
”You abstemious drip. Have you turned Protestant on me?”
”I assure you that I most certainly have not” said Powell.
”Oh well. Reminds me when you were at the end of your first year. You had Mods. We wre all going out to get smashed. You refused to join us for a pub crawl.”
”Maybe that is why I got a First”
Powell had worn a jacket and tie every day as an undergraduate. His sartorial conservatism was one of the more galling things about him. Everything was just so. He was too responsible.