Sean heard from Lisa that a new French girl had arrived in the village. She was helping out at the Primary school. The children there were to learn the language. She was sharing a house with the German assistant.
Down the pub Sean met Fanny. He managed not to chortle at her name.
”Hello my name is Fanny and I am from France” she said in a heavily Gallic accent. She was 5 foot nothing and slender. She had black hair, brown eyes, a grumpy expression though pretty face and olive skin. She wore a yellow blouse much too big for her and skinny jeans with pixie boots. Her hair was worn over her shoulders.
”Bon soir je m’appelle Sean et je suis irlandais” he said.
”Alors vous parlez francais.” She smiled which seemed to be something highly unusual for her.
”Bien sur. Je peux me debroiller”
”Ok very nice but we should to speak in the English for I am here for improve in the English.”
”All right then” he said. ”Where is your home in France?”
”Yes, Burgundy we call it”
”How you call it?”
”Burgundy” she repeated with difficulty. ”I have there my three little brother.”
He came to know Fanny. She was reasonably loquacious but his initial impression of her was right. She as sulky which is what comes of being a Frenchwoman and not allowed to eat. Who wouldn’t be sulky? No wonder this skinny malink was forever pouting. The 19 year old was a regular in the pub but drank little. Her tiny size meant she could not absorb much alcohol.
The GRIFFIN IS SICK.
Sean came back after half term. The Griffin came to school on the first day back. It was a chilly November and the sky was unremittingly grey. So was the Griffin’s outlook. She was jittery and withdraw. At lunchtime she pleaded she was ill and went home. She was living in a cottage on the far side of the valley from the school. It was a mile away and visible from the main building. It lay near the treeline where the hills tapered up from the valley floor towards the hidden tarns.
The next day the Griffin did not come to school but called in sick.
A couple of days later Sean was in the staff room in a free lesson. He was unwisely reading a newspaper. His sister had warned him: ”do not be seen to be reading a paper in school. That makes it seem like you have got nothing to to.” Heedless of this counsel he devoured the Torygraph.
Who should come through the door but the Griffin. She wore a grey wolly jumper and faded blue jeans. The woman’s were stained yellower than ever before. Her eyes were glassy and her lips trembled. She looked far away.
”Hello how are you?”
”I am not well” she said in a quiet moan. She did not make eye contact.
”What’s wrong with you?”
”I don’t know I am just ill” she wailed in a childlike tone.
”Have you been to the doctor?” said Sean heartlessly.
”NO” she bleated shaking her head feebly. She still did not look at him. She gathered some things from her pigeonhole and practically limped out of the door. He had never seen her so weird.
Sean later met Lisa, ”I saw the Griffin and she says she is ill. She was whining and would not look at me.”
”Well it is not physical because she would have been to the doctor. It is a mental health problem.”
A couple of days later the Griffin came into school for lessons. She was right as rain. Sean saw her in mid morning break. She was a woman transformed. She was back! Fell of grit and go.
”Hello there Sean!” she said in a chipper tone.
”Hello I am pleasantly surprised to see you.”
”Well it is a delight to see you” she smiled broadly and spoke with vigour in her voice.
”This is great how are lessons?”
”Oh a whole load of fun.”
”I thought you were unwell”
”I was but I am better now” she chuckled.
That Saturday night the Griffin was down the White Swan with her boyfriend. They were in excellent fettle. She did not even get that drunk!
That Sunday Sean decided to pay an impromptu visit to the Griffin. After luncheon he walked across the valley under the unforgiving clouds and to her grey-brown stone cottage. Her cottage was on its own – surrounded by sheep fields. The Griffin’s fiance had parked his Fiat Punto outside. It was a rainy day and Sean had mud on his army boots.
He knocked on the little wooden door. A moment later the Griffin came to the door – smiling as gaily as ever. She opened up for him. ”Hi there Sean. You are visiting? Do come in”. She was of remarkably good cheer.
”Thanks very much” he said merrily and wiped his boots on the doormat before stepping in.
Out came the Griffin’s bulky boyfriend. ”Hello there Sean how you doing?” he said in his mild Mancunian tones. He too was in the best of sorts. How very odd and very welcome a sea change it was.
”Pretty good. Just worried about all these reports I have to write soon.”
”Oh me too pain in the bloomin neck if you ask me”’ he chortled.
Sean stood there chatting to them in the front hall for a minute. The pair had their arms draped around each other. Sean took his boots off but not his jacket.
The door from the hall into the drawing room was open. He caught sight of a half-eaten souffle omlette on the table. He had not disturbed a repast since there were no plates, cups or items of cutlery to be seen.
The conversation went on cheerfully. They did not invite him any further or offer him anything. Though they were amicable he sensed that he was not very welcome. After 5 minutes of chatter in the hall he thought things were running dry.
”Well it was lovely to see you. I had best be off now.” he said putting on his boots again..
”Have a nice day” said the fiance as convincingly as he could muster.
”Yes see you tomorrow” the Griffin called out.
Sean headed out. He noticed in the fiance’s care there was a suitcase in the back seat and a couple of cardboard boxes. Bob was bringing her more stuff. Sean could not recollect such a curious turn of events. One day she was down in the dumps. Next day she was like a Jack in the Box. But be she ever so chipper she always retained the capacity to self -destruct. Was this female bipolar or what?
GUY FAWKES DAY.
Sean taught a lesson that morn. Fourth Form were learning about the United States in the Jazz Age. They had learnt much about Prohibition, the KKK, the Red Scare and the Roaring Twenties. But it being the Fifth of November he felt it would be remiss not to tell them about the Gunpowder Plot. He went off topic to tell them about it. He knew that he risked the wrath of Murphy if the head of department found out. Sacrificing 10 minutes of invaluable lesson time to further the pupils’ general education was unforgivable.
That evening Sean took a taxi into York. He was going down to London to do a session with a boy for Oxbridge Applications. In fact the return ticket to London cost more than he was making even bearing in mind he had a young person’s railcard to take a third off the ticket price. But Sean could not pass up the chance to see the big smoke. He badly needed to get out of the unhappy valley. As the train sped south of York he saw the ferris wheel in the fun park. A huge white rose adorned it – the symbol of Yorkshire. That evening the iron horse took him through town centres in the east coast mainline. He saw the fireworks going off.
Sean alighted at King’s Cross. He strode out of the terminus swathed in his camel hair coat. He felt he was the bees knees. The teacher remembered how King’s Cross had been known as a centre for prostitution. He had only once been propositioned in that vicinity. It was by a diminutive middle aged woman was a blonde bob who wore an unalluring black tracksuit. She seemed to be not quite the full shilling. How he could do with a hooker now.
He lodged at Kyrle’s place in Marylebone. Later Sean went and met his pupil on Dover Street. Kyrle was living the life of a gentleman of leisure – fallen slightly on hard times. He was a lodger in a a flat where an old man – Benedict Black – was the life tenant. Black was still a freelance music teacher.
It was a spacious four bedroom flat that had seen better days. The furniture was old without being antique. The carpet was worn through in places and the floorboards creaked spookily. In the drawing room there was a curved window overlooking a crossroads. A baby grand piano sat in the corner of the room. Benedict’s father had once been a Times journalist when that was handsomely remunerated. Benedict’s income from teaching music was uncertain to be the least especially as he approached three score and ten. He needed that income form the lodgers and was unscrupulous about paying tax. He was a broad minded chap and a living chronicle. He spoke of living in Notting Hill in the 50s. As a young teenager he had witnesses the race riots and seen Sir Oswald Moseley speak. He abominated Moseley’s racialist sentiments. ”My grandmother was frothing at the mouth racist. She used to spit blood at the idea of black people being in this country. Call them wogs, coons and niggers. She really thought they ought to be living in trees.”
”I see. Well my granny was the same. She came over from Ireland in 1923 and went back to Ireland in about 1953. Anyway she met some black people here and was totally prejudiced against them. She did have some positive attributes. My sister used to excuse her saying it was just ignorance. No black person ever did her the least harm. Many whites did. Why on earth did she have something against black people? Why did she not abominate her own colour? Well logic does not come into it.”
”I know it is mental isn’t it”
”I suppose that racist weltanschaung was just so widespread at the time.”
”I know what you mean”
”She was against Jews. Called her own nephews Jew boys in her less charitable moments.”
There was much merriment with Kyrle. He was in the telly room. A large and very old dentist’s chair sat in front of the telly. Kyrle was a cricket fanatic. He was glued to the box when cricket was on. He was an arch-traditionalist and despised 20-20 cricket. It was utter blasphemy. He extolled Geoffrey Boycott as the living embodiment of a cricketer.
Sean found cricket be as dull as can be. But he bought some bottles of wine. They clinked glasses and drained vinuous glassfuls. Kyrle too was keen on the bottle.
There was another housemate Angus Fennimore. This English-Scotsman was short and wiry. He had jet black hair which he geled into a spike like all wankers. At 35 he was working as a shop assistant selling musical instruments. He had honed his virtuosity with brass instruments during a few years in the army. He had some brass as this loser had a Scandinavian girlfriend who was passably doable.
Sean’s pupil in terms of Oxford entrance was a certain Terence Paris. He was an amiable boy at an independent school in West London. He had him read through texts and discuss them. They also spoke about Il Risorgimento. It was Sean’s strategy for the adolescent to prepare something for his Oxford History interview that was not British or 20th century.
It carried Sean back to his tutorials as an undergraduate. His favourite don at Christ Church had conducted tutorials over crumpets in a study draped in plaited satin. Those were the days. Days of luxury and wonderment. Now one with Nineveh and Tyre as Sean toiled among the benighted.
Soon it was the heart wrenching moment to turn his nose to the north, to the north – as John Keats would say. It would be back to collating statistics.
THE GRIFFIN LEAVES
Next day at lunch in the refectory Lisa said opposite Sean.
”The Griffin has resigned.”
”What? I went to see her yesterday and she was as upbeat as ever. Never seen her so sane.”
”I suppose because she knew she was going to leave.”
”Oh. I saw her fiance with her. Her had stuff in his car. I thought he was bringing her more things but they were packing up.”
”Yes, I just found out from Ethelwulf a minute ago. She asked to be allowed to resign early. Normally you have to give a term’s notice.”
”Well when I saw her in school a few days ago I thought she had rounded the corner. She was saner than ever and so optimistic – bursting with energy.”
”Well she had messed up so much and was really unhappy.”
”I suppose she is a manic depressive or something. Sometimes she is buoyant -you know energises everyone around her. Other times she is down in the dumps – just suicidally depressed. You just cannot talk sense to her – will not even look at you. And she has a drinking problem.”
Sean wondered how the Griffin had managed to beguile a handsome man who had so much going for him. She was no looker and was a complete kook. In terms of getting a job for the academic year she had been the first in – and the first out.
Mark was a short Liverpudlian with an unassuming manner.
”Hello Sean” he said once when Sean was in the staff room reading the newspaper.
”Hello. Sorry what is your name?”
”Hi I am Mark Moon. Housemaster of St Peter’s House.” Moon had a habit of leaving his mouth open even when he was not speaking.
Sean was impressed. This fleshy faced man was hardly older than him. ”Oh right. Is that the house with only Upper sixth in it.”
”Yes it is. Just took it over this September.”
”How long you been in the school?” Sean asked him. Every time Sean spoke Moon looked away as if to analyse what he had just heard. Was he asking whether he believed it?
”This is my 5th year. I did a short service commission with the army – one year. Then I went to Newcastle Uni and read Classical Civilisation. I got a job here teaching CT. I know not bad considering I don’t even have a degree in it” he chuckled.
Mark was likable. It was hard to believe he was a housemaster. He was not authoritative.
”Oh right wow. Good for you.”
”Running the house is fun but difficult. Coaching rugby helps me relieve stress.”
”I see. Well going to the church could give you spiritual strength.”
”Oh yes. I was brought up quite religious. My dad works for the church you see.”
”Hey didn’t I meet your wife in the pub last weekend. Met someone called Maggie Moon.”
”Oh yes that is my wife all right. She tried to get a job here teaching English. ANyway she is doing a Ph D at the moment.”
Sean thought Moon was a decent chap but began to suspect him of being a toady. Was he an informer for top management? Sean became careful not to be too friendly with moon lest he abuse his trust.
ABEL ON MASS
One Sunday Sean went into the pub. There he chanced upon his old mucker Abel.
”Ah so what have you been doing today?’
Abel intoned gravely, ”I heard mass. Did you hear mass? I heard high mass. I prefer solemn mass or even Tridentine mass which is a massive mass.” This sort of ultra montane loonery was Abel’s stock in trade.
”Sorry what exactly is Tridentine mass?” Sean inquired.
”You are a cradle Catholic you are supposed to know these things” Abel scoffed. He then launched into an explanation in a pedagogical tone. ”Tridentine mass is about the mass that was devised at the council of Trent. You know Trentino in northern Italy. It was in response to the Reformation. It was supposed to meet a bit earlier. Never did. Anyway it was supposed to bring about some internal reform instead of having proddies wrecking everything. It came too late and by that stage it was entirely defensive minded. I know there is a Tridentine Church – set up by Lefebvre. His flock will not accept any changes since the council of Trent. ”
”My goodness – well , good to know” said Sean. He was thoroughly bored of the subject. But Abel was in his element and only just starting. Abel warmed to his theme, ”My last parish priest got stopped for drinking driving after mass. The policeman said have you been drinking wine.? The priest said – no, blood.”
Sean found Abel entertaining. His reactionary Catholic fruitcake shtick was entertaining – in small doses. One thing that Sean found endearing in Abel was his lack of duplicity. Abel was theatrical but beneath all that Sean sensed that Abel believed every word. There were many around whose trade was treachery. It was staggering to think that a man as learned as Abel who had grown up in a secular age could believe in thousands of saints, mariolatry and the whole shebang. When the Catholic Church had the means of mind control imagine how many of the gullible and the unlettered believed such fiction.
Sean happened to sit opposite Fr Francis at luncheon one day. ”Ah you teach my tutee Jamie. How is he at Politics.”
”Dreadful. Boy does not know his arse from his eblow. I have predicted him an E grade only because I am not allowed to say a U grade.” Sean was amused at this astringent remark.
This monk had a face like and overgrown dopey dwarf. For once he made sense. Even a madman could not call Jamie’s aptitude for Politics adequate. After all Jamie’s father was a Tory loon and not even a humorous one.
Despite Francis looking like a holy fool the word was that Francis was intellectually formidable.
DOCTOR SHILLING ASKS ABOUT THE GRIFFIN
Doctor Shilling spoke to Sean, ”You knew the Griffin at Oxford didn’t you?”
”Yes, I did.”
”Well is she in a terrible place right now?” there concern on Shilling’s face was palpable.
”Yes, I think she is feeling low.”
Sean warmed to Shilling. Catholicism actuated him to care and to do good. He was a faithful child of the church and unobtrusive about his beliefs.
SMART THIRD FORM.
It was going fairly well. They learnt a lot about the Reformation. He set them prep and they did it.
Sean soon noticed a boy named Chissano. He had dense dark brown curls and a swarthy complexion with incongruously blue yes. He was tall for his age and not blemished be sebum. He was in St Olaf’s. ”What is your name?”
”Chissano, sir” said the boy.
Sean said to him. ”That is the same surname as a president of Brazil are you related to him?”
”Yes probably, I am Portuguese and Jewish and English and everything.”
He proved to be one of the smarter and more agreeable pupils.
Karen Farrell was an able pupil. This plump blonde girl was very smart and industrious. He behaviour was impeccable and she was a true delight to have in the class. She had won a scholarship and it was not hard to see why. Both her parents were dentists. She was cleverer and more motivated than her brother. There was an internal exam. Sean then announced the top result in the class. He said ”drum roll please” though there was none. ”The best result in the class went to …. Karen Farrell”
The child’s face lit up. She was over the moon and also in disbelief. She took her success with modesty and grace. She was a star pupil and he only wished he had more like her.
McDonald. Ronald Saunders was a skinny little Scot. He was likable but mischievous. He was fairly good at the subject and piped up in class.
Ogg. Ogg was a bulky boy and very voluble. He was well informed and had the sort of chin that could confront trouble halfway. He was all talk but little action. He spoke about entering for a History prize but never did.
Miss Roberts. Georgiana Richards. She was a dark haired and withdrawn pupil. She was matured but sulky. She never said anything but to grouse or put people down.
Denise Mount was a curly hair skinny girl with very fair skin. She was always distracted. She had a valley girl accent and the ditziness to match. She was a tutee of Miss Cavanagh’s. Miss Cavanagh used Denise to spy on what was going on in lessons. Miss C was often saying this was not good enough or something else was done too thoroughly. Sean would occasionally used an advanced word. He knew that most of them would not have this in their vocabulary but their vocab would never expand if he only ever spoke in words that they all fully understood. Miss Cavanagh was aghast that Sean should try to widen their lexis. It was anti-educational to try to teach children anything they did not know! Call the NSPCC.
Denise was unobjectionable but Sean did not especially warm to her.
The jaunt through the Reformation was enjoyable. Their behaviour was fairly good.
SLOW THIRD FORM.
This went reasonably well but not as well as with the higher ability set. Sean was no good with dim pupils.
The spread of Christianity in Mexico was mentioned in the textbook. Sean strove to make the three Mexicans feel included. The book mentioned La Noche Triste. ”What does that mean in English?”
The badly behaved one answered ”the sad night.”
Sean told them Charles V was the son of Felipe el Hermoso and Juana La Loca. Again he had the Mexicans translate. A bit of Spanish for the others to learn. Good for cross curricular.
There was one idle little boy named Holding. Holding never did his work. He was so behind on homework that he was given detention.
Holding was seen eating a sweet in class. Sean then said that Holding had to bring everyone a sweet in class or get detention. Holding forgot. Sean then said the boy had to give everyone two sweets next time or still get detention. Holding still forgot. Detention. Sean emailed his tutor to tell him.
His tutor then complained to all and sundry. He told Sean ”you think that the disciplinary system is there to give you sweets?”’
”I think the punishment should fit the crime. Brown is always on at us to give fewer detentions. This was another way of dealing with it. This is how my French teacher dealt with a similar situation.”
Lily Pinfold continued to look solemn. Sean discovered it was moodiness not mournfulness.
The big bouncy posh girl left the school after a few weeks. Lily claimed it was because her family was unhappy with his teaching. He reprimanded her. Would someone really be withdrawn from a school over one subject?
John Sykes was a thin face boy with a doleful and earnest expression. His nose was too big for the rest of his face. He listened intently but said little. After a few weeks Murphy said that Sykes was moving to a new class. Sykes’ parents had decided that they knew more about teaching History than the History teacher did. They had inisted that the boy be shifted.
Ho hum. It did not look good to have a boy leave his class. On the other hand he had to consider it an advantage. It was one person fewer to mark.
Ximenez’s grandfather had been president of Mexico just after the Second World War. Ximenez was tall and smiley. It was so long ago that Sean asked ”Are you sure it was not your great grandfather?”
”No it was not. My grandfather was 50 years when my dad is born. My dad is 50 years when I am born”
Rueda was another Mexican boy – short, mischievous boy with very curly hair. There was almost a skirmish between him and Ximinez.
”Ximenez is a PRI-ista” said Rueda ”I hate Partido de la Revolucion Institucional. They are hijos de pierras.”
There was a collective hold your breath as Ximenez came to punch Rueda. Sean had to attempt some political bride building between the two.
The third Mexican was Torres. His English was so limited the lesson was like a linguistic jigsaw to him. The school would take anyone with the readies.
Having three Mexicans in the class threw new light on Caholicism in the American continent. It was a perspective his class would never have had otherwise.
Sean liked teaching about international relations 1919-39.
Armando Paulucci was an Italian-American in the class. He had grown up in the United Kingdom so spoke British English. Armando was well above average height and was of ordinary intelligence.
The Italian-American Armando boy was fascinated about anything relation to Italy. It was a delight to have someone hang on his every word. Sean told them why Fascism was fairly popular. There was the mutilated victory and mass unemployment. There was chaos – admittedly largely caused by the Fascisti. Mussolino commanded genuine popularity. Italian-Americans liked him since he partially rid them of their reputation for being communists and anarchists.
There was another Italian in the class named Luigi Spotti. In fairness he was only a little spotty. Luigi was again very tall. He had unusually pale skin for an Italian but he had very dark brown hair. Luigi was academically able and he was also riveted by the lessons. He often raised his hand to answer questions.
Checky was a bit naughty. She spoke in an unaccountably pukka accent. She had brown hair and a permanent tan. Her mother taught in the school and Sean once accidentally called Checky by her mother’s name – Teresa. Still she was an amiable pupil. Checky had a sister who had left the year before. Sean noticed the 19 year old big sister down the pub one weekend. She was a leggy, athletic type. She was physically appealing but for her goofy lips. He was minded to attempt to chat her up. Then he discovered that big sister had a boyfriend.
Alice was late to every lesson. She was an absent minded and disorganised type. There was no malice in her. There was a far away look on her face. She was forever distracted.
Tim Keane was late a lot. He was Keane by name but not keen by nature. His mind was dull and his effort was very much absent. He was so disorganised he never brought his stuff. He had thick black hair and big lips. He was idle and rude. He was dyspeptic type and always argued the toss.
The class went fairly well.
Zoe was a tall one with a slight Yorkshire accent. She was a superb actress and a competent historian too. She was a lively member of the class.
Plantagenet was always wittering on about something. He was likable though thick as two shorts planks.
Cutley was a half Hispanic son of an old boy. He had a faint American accent and was very likable. An honours board supplied the information that his father had been cricket captain thirty years before.
Pinfold sat their sulking and never did any work.
Raines sat there with his mouth agape. His big bug eyes were gazed over. He looked like a confused ape. He was weeks behind with homework.
Sean was soon having to put people on homework detention because they were not doing their coursework on time.
Sean went to Big Study to supervise this. Pinfold and Raines were there.
Sean found out that Pinfold was already on every detention there was. It was just part of the school day for him. Pinfold did not show up much.
The school had said they would not take him into sixth form even if he passed his GCSEs – an unlikely proposition. Why should his mother a hard working solicitor pay the fees for this useless ingrate? He was a waste of space?
Greg Wilson was a member of the class. He had black hair and pale skin with cold blue eyes. He was always blinking and there was something naive about him. He had nothing to say for himself but he was perfectly unobtrusive. His twin brother was in another class since he was one of the cleverest in the school. This must have been extra galling for Greg. Sean met their parents at a parents’ day. The father was a bald barrister in dark tweed suit. He was a trim man of middle height and as grave as a judge. The mother had long black hair, carefully brushed. She was a Yorkshire milf.
SMART LOWER SIXTH.
Seem to go quiet well. Ken Clough was a very likable boy who performed well.
Adela was a quiet and brainy girl. She was somewhat chubby and seemed older than she was.
Vivian Eckles Buller had long lank brown hair and an away with the fairies look. This cloud dweller was unobtrusive. He wore leather waistcoats and fedora hats. This studied eccentricity was most agreeable.
James McCall was a notable member of the class. He had mid brown tousled hair and an affable manner. He made a good effort and never caused trouble. He was mature in a sense but liked a little adolescent rebellion – though never against Sean.
Sydney was a very bright boy who said nothing. He looked like and owl and cowered at the back. His written work was superb. Sean found out that the boy was brilliant at other subjects. You would never guess it.
There was a boy called Merv Ocker. Ocker was an Australian with a maniacal smile. He had pale blue eyes and light skin. He was only to be there for a year. Sean saw emails warning him that the lad had an anger management problem. In fact he was never a problem.
SLOW LOWER SIXTH
In the lesson Harry B W asked Sean ”Sir is it true you knew the Griffin at Oxford?”
Sean noticed how the practice he had begun – of calling this woman the Griffin – had spread even to the pupils.
”Yes, I had that displeasure.”
”Well let’s face it she was a total mentalist. The sort who ends up teaching CT at AMBLEFIFTH”
The boys started chuckling
”Was she crazy there too?” asked Harry B W
”She once turned up at her boyfriend’s house with a knife threatening to stab him. Had to be arrested. Was sent to the loony bin for a bit.” Sean was on comedy mode. He loved to entertain the class.
”She had a boyfriend?”
”I know she was a real brown bagger.” Sean felt naughty saying this. It was a real thrill to break the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
”What do you mean a brown bagger?” asked Harry B W
”Only one way you could do her. Put a brown paper bag of her head. Or if you don’t have a brown paper bag and she is a real minger just close your eyes and pretend it is someone else. It is all the same in the end,” He said it with relish – pulling comic faces. He was a born show man and loved to have an audience.
The class was collapsing in laughter. Sean loved these opportunities for stand up comedy. It also won him the regard of the boys. The one girl in the class felt gauche. Trouble was it was hard to restore order once the boys were falling about the place with mirth
”I cannot believe a teacher just said that” said Smithers.
The one girl in the class was Liz Backhouse. She was average height and had brown hair that she wore tied back. She was dim and distant. Liz spoke in a quiet southern English voice and always seemed to be faintly confused. She had just joined the school and the rumour went around that her parents had won the lottery which is how they afforded the fees.
Later Harry B W said ”Sir you know that Liz Backhouse fancies you.”
Sean then bent his knees and formed his index fingers into a sign of the cross as though warding off the antichrist and pointed his crossed fingers at Liz. He gurned his face into a terrified grimace.
Harry burst into raucous laughter as did a few of his pals. Jamie was never paying attention. ”Did you see what he just did?” Harry asked Jamie.
Sean thought it vital to scotch any rumour that there could be any impropriety between himself an a pupil. This was not very worrying since one boy was saying a girl had the hots for him and not that he fancied a pupil.
Jamie never paid attention. He would always be chatting to the boy beside him. Sean told him to be quiet and listen. Jamie would say that he was asking the other fellow what the teacher had just been saying. Sean then told Jamie that if he listened in the first place he would hear it himself and not always be a minute behind having to get it from the boy beside him. This was also distracting his classmate. Logic was beyond Jamie. He was conceited and profoundly thick.
Iacopo was one of the more memorable pupils in the class. He was quiet and diligent in class and also one of the cleverer ones. That is not saying much. He had mid brown hair and pale skin. He was short and not strong. Around the house and at luncheon he would chat to Sean a lot.
”Sir I hear you speak German.”
”Ach ja mein Student ich kann.”
”Ich kann auch.”
”Aber ich habe gedacht das du bist Italianisch.”
”Ich bin Italianisch unde Osterreicher aber ich in Genf gewohnen als ich kann vier Sprache sprechen. Let’s speak English now. Sir you went to Oxford. My sister is at Worcester. what is that like?”
”A fairly good college.”
”Right I want to go into banking like my dad so which college is the best for me.”
The boy had not a snowball in hell’s chance of making it to Oxford but Sean could not tell him that straight out. ”They are all equally good for that so just make an open application to maximise your chances of getting in.”
Some of the pupils were openly contemptuous of all teachers. Sean bridled at this. Those who looked down on him would not be able to get a job as a teacher themselves even when they had degrees. Sean remembered that he too had been arrogant at their age but had been to an even posher school. He and his classmates were at least clever unlike most of the boys and girls here. These pupils seemed to imagine that they would waltz into their dream job. In many cases daddy had landed a plum job at a bank because of family connections. These pupils were in for a rude awakening. The days when daddy could get you a job were long over. It was strictly on merit. In the financial sector only one thing counted: money. If you make it you are promoted. If you lose it you are out. Banks cannot afford to be snobblish. As is anyone outside the county has heard of the school. These pupils were sorely deluded. Sean wanted to see some of them fall flat on their faces.
The trouble was that Sean also disrespected his job. He always felt that teaching was not an illustrious career. Being a barrister – that was a worthy career. There had been this notion at university that teaching was for second raters. This was not necessarily so as some First class graduates went into it. He had always been faintly embarrassed about being a teacher. He did not define himself through his job. When someone asked him what he did for a living he always said ”I am a teacher” quickly to get the word out of the way. He looked down on his own occupation. He did not take pride in his work only in his subject knowledge.
Though some of the pupils felt disdain for Sean they all knew which school he had attended. Even they were forced to tug the forelock to that. They sneered at some teachers for having the wrong accent and/or having attended state school. They could not but respect Sean for his schooling.
Some of the pupils were totally uncerebral. It was a damning indictment of British education that these girls and boys would nevertheless go on to be awarded degrees.
It was going fairly well with Upper Sixth. Sean liked teaching this level. It was about the unification of Germany. He gutted Blackbourn for information. There were only a dozen pupils in the class. Sean said he would treat them as adults. It largely worked.
Erich Bloomberger was the star pupil. This German had been there for several years so his English was flawless. Reading essays at this level stimulated Sean. This was the level he wanted to teach at.
Moreton Wilkinson was one of the boys in the class. He was also house captain of St Olaf’s. He was an all rounder and fairly stimulating to teach.
Abi Penny was also in the class. She was a so so pupil and Moreton’s girlfriend. They were inseparable. Like many young couples they looked so alike that they could have been brother and sister.
Ben Slim was another notable pupil in the set. He had mid brown hair and pinched cheeks. He was thin, earnest and not very bright. He made a sterling effort and Sean commended him for that.
Charles Rham was another pupil in the class. He was well over 6’2” and built like a brick shit house. He had a deep voice and grouchy manner. He was a rugby star and played for the county. He was adulated by his schoolfellows for his rugby prowess. He also had a drop dead gorgeous girlfriend.
Sean spoke German so he was able to access a lot more material.
Murphy claimed to research the Holocaust. Trouble was Murphy spoke no other languages so could not read any source material written in anything other than English. On the website Murphy said ”members of the department keep up their research interests”. This was the usual self important lie.
AROUND THE LIBRARY
Sean went into the library again. He was scouting for books to recommend to third form.
He bent down and scanned the lower history shelves. He heard a telltale noise form behind the shelf. The two lovebirds were there. That will have been Helen Sheriff and her French boyfriend. He had best move on. He went to another room in the library. This was where pupils were permitted to talk.
”Hi sir how you doing” said a boy in upper 6th. He had mousy brown hair, pale skin some large moles on his face and a bluff manner. He spoke in RP and very quickly. There was something faintly deranged about him.
”Hello there what is your name?”
”My name is Matthew Sergeant. ”
”Well hello Matthew”
”Hello Mr Gallagher”.
Sean looked at what the boy was doing as he sat at a desk. He was sketching knives and swords.
”You are fascinated by knives and swords?”
”Oh yes. I have over 100 at home. I love collecting them – bowie knives and samurai swords. They are so cool. Can disembowel someone in 10 seconds.”
”I see. ” Sean was perturbed.
”Yeah I just started here in this year in upper sixth. Had to leave my last school sharpish,”
”Why was that?”
”Oh bringing a knife into school”
”Ah… ” said Sean. ”Tell me what do your parents do?”
”They are both psychiatrists” he said. Sean reflected that this lad would need all the help he could get. It figured that both his parents were mad doctors. These people must have had mentally ill relatives. Psychiatrists usually go into that field to figure themselves out.
Sean got to know his way around the website. All the mentions of prayers were tedious and nauseating. The high moral tone of the blurb was in marked contrast to the behaviour of so many pupils and staff. Religious people are suupposed to have higher ethical standards than secular people. It was shocking that clergy would lie outright.
The website said 10% of pupils went to Oxbridge. The true figure was 5%. So they had inflated the figure by 100%.
He noticed that Fr Michael always signed off letters ”with thoughts and prayers.” Did Michael actually pray for me when he wrote to me? Or was this sanctimonious shite.
MEETING WITH MURPHY.
Soon it was back to collating data for Murphy. Sean showed up the to meeting unpunctually.
Sean noticed that Murphy’s trousers were usually a little torn at the hems. He was the ragged trousered misanthropist.
”So Sean are your lower sixth ready to sit the exam in January for this module? It makes a heck of a lot of difference. If they are not ready then they will not sit till June. It is not rocket science.” Murphy sniffled liberally and stretched his lips out and to the right.
”Well, um, I am not sure. Some of them are” He was hedging his bets. If he said they were unready that reflected badly on him. If he said they were ready and they underperformed he would be blamed.
”Well you will have to supply me with hard evidence. I mean statistical information on their key performance indicators viz – a – vis the national curriculum. I need it presented as a bar chart, pie chart and a graph together with documentary proof in hard and soft copy.”
”I cannot make this call without input from you.”
”Yes, of course”
”This department is not just staffed by me. We are a team and you are a member of it. Once you fully take that on board we can have a good output.”
This team talk had him retching. He knew that Miss Cavanagh – the protege of his nemesis – would have all her pie charts done. A fat lot of good it would do to advance the erudition of those in her incapable charge.
Sean was taking his sports clothes in. He would work on the machines. He was supposed to send people away for not wearing the right clothes. He sometimes did. He need to be liked by management and not the pupils.
Sean met a man a little older than himself and a splendid fellow. He was a well built man of 6’1”. He had light brown hair, glasses, slightly dark skin and a nasal voice. He had small blue eyes. Shilling was worldly and affable – he looked like a bulkier version of Bruce Reynolds.
”Hello there my name is Peter” said the man with a trace of London accent.
”Hi Peter my name is Sean”
”I believe you will be in my house – St Olaf’s”
”Ah so you are the deputy housemaster”
”What do you teach?”
”I teach Chemistry. ” said Dr Shilling. Sean was notably struck by how personable this chap was. Uusally a chemist is the worst sort of geek with zero interpersonal skills.
”Great when did you start?”
”Came here 3 years ago just after my Ph D.”
He was remarkably genial for a scientist.
”I see. Wow. I wish I had one of those. Lots of German in the house I notice.” Sean had a way of totally changing subject mid way through a conversation.
”Yes there are. Good to practise German. I spent some time in Vienna.”
”Ich kann auch auf deutsch sprechen.”
”Dann wir werden auf deutsch sprechen.”
Dr Shilling was one of the most amiable people in the place.
Sean was helping people with Oxbridge Applications. He had to send articles to two boys. He also spoke to them on the phone. He did their UCAS statements.
Sean met them in London and did mock interviews.
Terry Paris was a gangly blond boy. He was soft spoken and pensive. Sean found him amiable.
Turlough O’Shaughnessy was the other one whom Sean was mentoring. Turlough had applied the year before without success. The boy was also pleasant but somehow absent minded.
Sean was in touch with the agency. They told him to manage Turlough. Set him deadlines and check he has done things.
The UCAS statement was sent off. Sean then foolishly told the truth. He told Turlough that there had been errors in it when Turlough sent it.
Sean got a call from the agency. It was Charlotte – a lanky hot girl with big teeth: ”I have just had to field a fairly angry phone call from Turlough’s dad” – the word ‘fairly’ was dishonest here. ”I told you to set him deadlines and check he did things. Which you haven;t done” she was irascible. She carried on in an abusive manner.
Turlough was taken off Sean and reassigned. Sean still had Paris and made some dosh off him.
Sean was in touch with Barbara. She was his German ex girlfriend whom he had mistreated. He emailed her and she wrote to him.
He fantasised about her endlessly. He was still sentimental about her. He imagined having a baby with her. He would get carried away with these romantic feelings. Then he would wise up and realise that having a child with her would have been no picnic. She still wrote to him. She told him that she had moved on and had a new boyfriend.
”Sir have you tried cannabis” asked Harry B W in a tutorial
”I am not going to answer that question or be asked it again” said Sean finger jabbing. He had tried to put some authority into his voice.
Burley Wookey was mischievous as ever. He kept asking/
Sean arrived for house duty. He sat in the housemaster’s study. Dr Shilling was there.
”They keep asking me if I have tried cannabis.”
”Well I did three times when I was 19. I do not want to lie to them but at the same time I must not admit it. I bat away the question.”
THEATRE – FIRE WALKING
There was a play near the end of term. The fire alarm was not working. The play could only go ahead if people fire walked. That meant walking around the building to see if there was a fire and raising the alarm if needs be.
Alexandra Bishop and Sean were on duty. They were supposed to be separate. Instead the sat down in a room at the back of the theatre and chatted.
”The Griffin was gross it is surprising that anyone shagged her” said Alexandra.
A certain look came over Sean’s face.
”What? hAVE YOU? Have you?” Sean looked guilty and then nodded. He laughed
”What? yOU bonked her.”
”I know not my finest hour”
”Yes, because I heard she went to your place after the quiz one night.”
”We did it bareback and she won’t use contraception.”
”Oh my God. We did not know if she was pregnant for a while. But I would have blamed it on her boyfriend.”
”Oh my God. And you are both against abortion so she would have had to have had the baby”
”How much do your tutor group know about your private life?”
”Well they know I have a boyfriend and I live with him.”
”How is her now?”
”Well he has a heavy cold and is recuperating.”
Harold Shaw was his name. He was 5’10” and had dark brown hair and sallow skin. He was slim and a little stooped. Harold spoke in a tranquil, quiet and self assured manner. Sean and Harold got along very well.
”My view is when you die – you die.”
”Me too. How do you fund your studies?”
”I got a grant. I got a top first I also do some work for the council”
Harold was a chain smoker like Lisa.
One weekend in the Swan Lisa invited Sean over.
”Hello you must meet my friends from London. Hi this is Ian” she said.
Ian was 6’4” and had an open face, slightly gappy teeth with auburn hair. He was placid and gentle.
”Hello there what’s your name?” he said in RP.
”Hi my name is Sean. How do you know Lisa?”
”We were at school together. This is my wife Molly.”
”Hello Molly” said Sean shaking her hand. Molly was painted and powdered for the evening.
Molly was almost 6 foot high. She wore a white cotton blouse and a long tie dye skirt. Her thick auburn hair was braided. She smiled and looked like a posh new age traveller. Her blouse was inadequately fastened and she kept having to redo the buttons.
”What do you two do?”
”I am an artist” said Ian
”I am a seamstress” said Molly.
”I see. Fun and not stressful.”
”Yes, I do it every day even when we were on honeymoon.”
”When did you marry?”
”Well good for you. Did you go on honeymoon?” asked Sean
”Yes, we did to Lebanon.” said Ian Wordsworth
”An unusual choice. I would really like to go but I dilly dally too much..”
”Yes, you should. People were very warm to us despite Blair’s war crimes in Iraq.”
”Come now – Iraq has been liberated. There are about 40 countries in the coalition. It is upholding the will of the UN. ”
”All right I know it has done some good. It is neo colonialism. My father was a district commissioner in Tanzania – one of the last. I know colonialism can be a good thing but what happened in Iraq was illegal.”
”Perhaps we should agree to disagree.”
”Yes, we should” said Ian mildly.
”What did your father do after colonial service.”
”Then he became an MP in Northern Ireland. That is where we are from. He was a Unionist – moderate. He wanted some reforms. But he lost his seat to a real hardliner. He married my mum who is a Catholic so that was counted against him by some of the bigots.”
”Wow. Brave of him.”
”Yes, and of her. She is a Catholic from the South of Ireland. She grew up in Tanzania met my dad out there. She speaks with a public school accent like us. Then she married dad. They were at a dinner party in Northern Ireland and a man was ranting – the Catholics are bad, they never use contraception, they have too many children, they never work, they have too many children. So my mum said ”I am a Catholic”. Some people dropped the cutlery. My mum also got grief from some of her own side. They said that all Unionists were anti Catholic. My dad is proof that that is not true but yeah sure there was a probably with sectarian prejudice in both directions. I mean some of my mum’s cousins in Tipperary used to talk about black Protestants not to mean that Protestants are black but that they are bad. ”
These two friends of Lisa’s visited on many occasions.
DINNER IN THE REFECTORY.
Sean went to dinner in the refectory. There at the staff table was Abel.
”How is your marking going?” asked Abel
”Tick twice a paragraph then think of a number” said Sean
Abel chuckled ”If only it wasn’t true”
”I just ask myself how much I like this person.”
”Too true” said Abel ”I shilly shally too much trying to actually evaluate the work. I love you attitude. Who gives a flying fuck about these thick children.”
Sean knew Abel was kindred spirit in terms of his attitude. However, he did not share Abel’s religious fervour.
”Last time I was in London I found out where the cardinal-archbishop of Westminster lives around the corner from Westminster Cathedral.”
”By the way I can get you into archbishop’s house. Because I have the right contacts – doors will fly open.” said Abel.
”Well it would be fascinating to take a peak.
”In the Catholic Directory. If it lists someone as care of archbishop’s house that means the priest is in prison for kiddie fiddling.” said Abel.
Abel loved kowtowing to cardinals. He was forever boasting of the prelates he had met.
Murphy explained to Sean.
”You give a grade A to E for presentation . Then you give a number 1 to 5 for the quality of the work. Then you give a letter A to E for effort.” Murphy sniffled and pushed his lips forward before twisting them to the right.
Sean was perplexed. Three indicators for quality. Why A to E? There was an A* grade as well.
”And if it is sixth form you give a percentage as well.” Murphy snuffled and moved his lips to the right. ”So get it right. It is not rocket science” said Murphy.
”I set a heck of a lot of store by this” said Murphy.
Heck? Really? Did he have to bowdlerise even that.
Four indicators. Sean was soon to learn the school was fixated with collating data. It was not about education. The aim of the school was to amass tonnes of statistics and to produce endless reports and plans that no one would read.
Sean spotted the bottoms of Andy Murphy’s trousers were frayed.
Murphy carried on speaking. Heck. Not rocket science. Sean’s eyes drifted up and to the right. He caught himself day dreaming. The suddenly he snapped out of it. He was back in the room. It was his petit mal epilepsy he had zoned out for a few seconds.
”Have I lost you?” Murphy said in a tone of unconcealed ire.
Then Murphy was on at him to set target grades for his pupils
Target grades. SHoulnd’t that be one above where they are now? Set it automatically. If they already are at the top it should be the same again. Sean was smarter than to point this out. It was like the emperor’s new clothes. The right thing to say was so blatant but no one dare did it for fear of appearing stupid.
MEETING WITH A MURPHY
A meeting with due with Andy. Sean could be sure of two things. It was not rocket science. And there would be a ”heck” of a lot of problems. Sniffle. Stretch lips out and to the right. Heck – this minced oath irked Sean more than any other. Could Murphy not bring himself to say hell? If not then he ought to avoid the word altogether.
Andy Murphy’s trousers were curiously frayed at the bottom. He was so miserly that he would never replace them.
CLASH WITH ALEXANDRA.
”When I was at uni I was in a rape crisis centre” said Alexandra ”that is why I am a feminist. When I vote it is a toss up between Labour and the Lib Dems. I have to see who will advance women.”
”Shoudn’t women advance themselves and they are in all parties.”
”They cannot because of the patriarchy. There is male privilege”
”No there isn’t look at all the anti male discrimination”
”Couldn’t it be because men are more talented and work harder.”
”That is so sexist.”
”You did not say it was wrong.”
”It is wrong.”
”What is your empirical evidence.”
”Well girls do better than boys at school.”
”They do now but they do not at university.”
”That is because most professors are men and they discriminate against women and teach in a male way.”
”Most teachers are women but that does not mean they discriminate against boys and teach in a feminine way? If indeed there is a masculine and feminine style of teaching.”
”Well a woman cannot rape a man unless she has a broomstick or something.”
”Keep your fantasies to yourself”
”Excuse me how dare you I am offended”
”It is outrageous what you said.”
”What that you want to shove a broomstick up a man’s arse?”
”No that I wanted to be raped.”
”No I jokingly suggested you wanted to push a broom up some man’s bum which you suggested.”
”Right I have had enough. This is like when Abel told people I was a Protestant and therefore undermining Catholicism. I had to go to Rachel Arrowsmith about him and have him reprimanded”
She was an overgrown schoolgirl always sneaking on people.
ALEXANDRA – RECONCILIATION
Down the pub he saw Alexandra and her boyfriend Powles. Powles wore an open neck shirt.
”How are you Sean?” she said in a tone that indicated she had forgiven him.
”I am top hole. How are you two?”
”Very well indeed” said Powles
”’Come join us sit down” said Alexandra.
Powles went to get some drinks in.
”I was interviewed at the end of the school year. They were scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
”Well my boyfriend was interviewed at the same time so he was further down that barrel than you were.”
”Well I wish he had got it not me. He has got a PGCE after all”
”That is very good of you. He is teaching at a local state school. If anything comes up he will go for it.”
”What are you doing for Christmas?”
”Going to see my granddad first of all. He is not well.”
”Oo I am sorry to hear that. ”
”He was out in South Africa and he fell ill. He came back and he has still not recovered.”
”What was he doing out there?”
”He was visiting his old diocese.”
”Yes he was a bishop. Anglican bishop. He was very vocal against apartheid. He was always saying to the white government that they must not mistreat black people.”
”I see. A worthy cause.”
”You are too right. Anyway, the Griffin has left. I felt quite sorry for her but she was a disaster right from day one. The girls in her house lost all respect for her when they saw her drunk.”
Sean could not help chuckling. ”To think her boyfriend, sorry fiance wanted to be a headmaster. Picture the scene – there is a rather smart drinks party for the parents. And er where is the headmaster’s wife? There is she is face down in a pool of her own vomit.”
”She was the colleague from hell” said Alexandra.
”I know must have been hard for the school to suppress all the bad stories about her”
”She was forever name dropping about cardinals she had met”
”Yes she treated them like celebrities. She was such a snob about being a Catholic. She off having an assignation with her fiance now no doubt.”
Spurred on by drink he regaled them with many more drolleries. He did not fluff a line.
PARENTS IN AUSTRALIA
Sean’s parents had gone to Australia. He was in touch by email. They phoned him occasionally. They were sympathetic to his plight with a horrific boss. Both of them had had a boss from hell. Sean was calling his boss ”cunt face” in his emails which was a huge understatement of the odium he felt for this satan.
As Sean walked home under an oppressively low, grey sky. He saw Fr Francis shambling along the potholed unpaved lane. He was in his monk’s habit which was liberally stained with drool. A coating of dandruff adorned his shoulders. Francis smoked a pipe and his spittle dripped from off it when he withdrew it from his very thin lips to offer Sean a hearty ”Hello!”
Francis’ tiny eyes were red. His jowled face looked even paler when he was outside.
”I thought you might be a boy and I would have to hide in a bush so you would not see me smoking” he said mirthfully.
Sean forced himself to courteously titter at this witticism. Oddly Francis gormless facial expression did not change one white. He continued staring disconcertingly as he always did. There was a dissonance between his words and his face. Sean wondered whether Francis might have more than a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome. The inappropriate tone of voice, the lack of empathy and the inability to pick up on unwritten rules of social intercourse all hinted that way.