Mr Merryweather had said ”I could not believe it when you handed me all those lesson plans as one big bunch. They need to be in folders.” Merryweather came across as hardnosed and decent. He epitomised the northern English petit bourgeois. He was slender and fastiduous about his appearance. His dark grey wavy hair was carefully brushed. Mr Merryweather was attired in coffee coloured trousers, a mid blue jersey over a white shirt and a green checked jacket and a navy blue tie: just slightly twee. He came across as a heterosexual Alan Bennett.
At luncheon Merryweather headed off with Mr Murphy. Sean was discomposed to hear the latter address the former by his Christian name. They were getting close. That was a bad sign. Sean prayed that the two were not of one mind. Complicity between them could well lead to Sean failing his PGCE. It was very much in his interests that the two detested each other and distrusted each other. Sean was unsure how to achieve this without blotting his own copybook.
Sean remembered what Merryweather had said. ”You may think it is hard here but I was a deputy head in a rough inner city comprehensive. Some of my predecessor lasted one month in the job. It was that bad! That is where I got my stripes – help turning around a failing school” Sean could not help but admire him. Sean would not know what had hit him if he walked into a comp. He was aware he could not survive a single day in such a school. It came time to say goodbye. Sean shook his hand and felt that Mr Merryweather was sympa.
Sean finally went to the shop and bought some folders. He was mindful not to irritate the good Mayweather on his next visitation.
The priest there greeted him with his usually camp purr. ”Oh hello” he sounded like Noel Coward. Despite being blatantly gay there was never a whisper that this monk was ever actively gay. The monk was as animated as he assistant was timid. Sean would well imagine this monk indulging in fast living. Why was he living in a monastery and not snorting coke off a rent boy’s balls? But perhaps such profane thoughts never crossed the mind of this man of God.
Y T G
‘WHy do we set homework?’ set Mrs Arrowsmith. She wrote it on the board. What a fabulous gambit? Great lesson. Ah yes uppermost in her mind was the need to be innovative. Writing on the board. Nobody ever thought of that one. So minutely planned and groundbreaking. It must have been prepared down to the last T.
On this occasion Arrowsmith had an unclean appearance and stank to high heaven. Even for a presumable female of her age she was hirsute. Her physigonomy did not look like it had seen soap in many’s the day. Her hands were no less grimy.
Why did a certain headmaster abolish homework?
Sean said ”cheap popularity”
Mrs A did not like that. If Sean was wrong why was she not advocating the same policy?
Later Mrs Arrowsmith went on; ”’Those who are young should be left wing. The Catholic Church should be a left wing organisation. We are about helping the poor. That also means feminism, gay rights and being pro Choice.”
She drew admiring comments from some of the left wingers there.
”We must also stop the students getting their hands on unsuitable reading material. I do not just mean pornography but things like Just Seventeen. These publications are disgusting aren’t they?”
Sean could not concur. People old enough to get married were to be denied the knowledge of the facts of life?
”You must find caches of obscene material and destroy it. That includes the Daily Telegraph. No one should read the fascist press. Some people here wanted to set up a branch of the Young Tories and I vetoed it. That is the cadet club of the reactionaries.”
Sean was bowled over. How could this woman oppose some core Catholic doctrines in the school? What she was saying was a precursor to left wing McCarthyism. The school was full of myriad contradictions. It stood for traditional Catholicism and the shared end of the PC agenda.
At the end she asked him to stay behind as though her were an impudent schoolboy.
”I run a right ship” she began with one of the most contemptible cliches. ”I do not take kindly to you sneering at the latest educational theories.”
”Sorry you are quite right we should never set homework” he managed to hide his total disagreement. Sean decided he had been not exert himself in these sessions. If he simply switched off then he might pass through unnoticed. If he gave a moment’s thought to her jabberings he was bound to disagree. The temptation to speak his mind would be irresistible. Mrs Arrowsmith believed education was not about speaking one’s mind if one disagreed with her.
Trying to get 5th form to do their coursework on time was a nightmare. They were given plenty of time. They were given time in lessons. Sean was increasingly fretful that the boys would not finish.
Sean even enjoyed teaching this lot at times. Occasionally they were quiescent and even attentive. He would put a lesson to the class. If no one raised his paw to answer it then Sean would put his hand up and then turn to look at his hand before answering it himself. This comic turn amused the boys muchly.
Sean’s mistake was not to allow enough time for them to answer the question – to process it. He spoke fast and thought faster. A second after he asked a question he would answer. Boys needed three seconds to think about it before answering.
Pinfold never did his of course. This urchin exuded an odour that can most charitably be described as agrarian. Sean would then pass flatus into his face. Only if he knew it would be silent but violent.
Pinfold never did a stroke of work. Sean decided to bring in other levels of authority. He wrote to the housemaster and the boy’s tutor. Pressure him from several angles. He must be outnumbered. Sean also called in the director of studies and the head of year.
In a spare lesson Sean was idling on wikipedia. Learning History might be thought commendable for a History teacher but not in this school. Just then there was a very purposeful rap at the door. Sean looked around. It was Dr Rabbit. The whey faced Dr Rabbit had an blond Elvis Presley hairstyle, horn rimmed glasses and a habit of biting his lower lip. He was a humourless Maths teacher who would have been better off as a forensic accountant. The wretched Pinfold was beside him looking both shame faced and truculent.
Rabbit did not wait for permission and burst in the door. He was a slim man of a little below average height. He began in his Yorkshire accent. ”He says he has given you the coursework is that true?”
Sean was not certain that the boy had not. He rooted through his filing cabinet before declaring that he had not.
Sean had to complain about and Oriental not doing his work. He got them confused and gave the wrong one detention. Wu took it well but then asked courteously why he had been given detention. The child had been angelic to do detention when he was entirely innocent. The Occidentals were far worse. They would defy detention when they deserved it 10 times over.
Sean also wrote to a boy’s tutor complaining that the pupil had not handed in his coursework. The tutor wrote back that the boy insisted that he had handed it in but ”I know not to trust those puppy eyes.” Sean eventually realised he had been wrong and this boy had done it.
Towards Christmas Sean was collecting coursework and saw how much missing. ”I am sacked” he said to himself aloud. So many things had gone wrong.
Around St Olaf’s Sean noticed a boy who gloried in the absurd name of Titus Blundell Hollinshead-Blundell. Titus has a square face and a mass of shaggy brown hair. The family remarried into itself and felt compelled to record that in its surname? The ludicrously self-important triple barrel surname said much about the boy. Did the family not see this formulation as autoparodic?
Titus has bog brush brown curls and a haughty manner. He was gregarious but dim. He was a junior house prefect. When on duty he would march around the house shouting at people to shut up. He often reeked of cigarette smoke. Sean chose not to confront the boy on this.
Sean told Fr Augustine that Titus stank of tobacco.
”Yes, I know he smokes but so what?”
”Well we are supposed to stop him. It is against the rules.”
”Oh does not matter. I am the housemaster. Just ignore it.”. How it was that he diverged from school rules on this issue when the school was investing its anti-smoking rhetoric with a moralistic tone. And yet Augustine was held up as the beau ideal of housemasters.
Sean discovered that Augustine’s lax approach to things did not extend to him. Sean had forgotten a house tutors’ meeting and that was reported to his head of department – though it was not a departmental issue. It was also reported to the headmaster.
Titus was rude and bullying. At luncheon he often made off hand remarks to Sean. Sean held him behind to reproach him for his discourteous remarks.
”Sorry” he spat out with dumb insolence.
”You need to change your attitude and be a lot more deferential”
Titus rolled his eyes and gave Sean a disdainful glare. ”Sir I said sorry what you want me to do start crying?” he shouted. Sean have him detention. Relations between the two never improved. Sean was glad that at least he did not have this arsehole in his tutor group.
Titus continued like this. He went out for a fag and thought he was being sneaky. In fact he was cunning as an ox. Not a fox.
DOWN THE BOOZER.
The Philhellene was there drinking straight from the bottle. ”Everyone knows that the abbot is gay. Not that he acts on it.”
There were raised voices in another part of the pub – obligating the Philhellene to speak loudly. Too loudly for such a delicate matter..
”Well nothing wrong with that” Sean commented
”And that fellow who translated the Bible. He is said to be gay” the Philhellene continued. This Chemistry teacher’s descent into dypsomania was surely irreversible.
”Yes, I met him once. Very camp mannerisms and the gayest voice ever. It is no worse than being hetero for a monk. Just so long as they do not act on their urges. ”
Oddly the Chemistry teacher would sometimes make as it to drink but it would be a feint. What did this repetitive action signify? It was as much the physical action as the actual imbibing of alcohol that was ingrained into his behaviour. The man was hooked and he was not a happy drinker. Booze has patently become his master and not remained as his servant.
”What is wrong with you mate why don’t you get bladdered like me?” asked the Philhellene?
”I have a keen eye for the ladies. Do not want to put them off.”
”They don’t have much of an eye for you” he laughed.
”Touche” Sean had to admit that the man had hit the mark.
”I hardly ever met Murphy but I know he is an arse. I am on your side” said the Philhellene. It was good to knowing he was gaining. Even someone with a less than full glimpse of the History Department knew that Murphy was a merkin.
Sean then began to speak to Abel. Abel was in his cups. ”How are things Abel?” asked Sean. Abel Kennington was looking down in the mouth.
”Ah could be better. I wonder if I have a vocation. Maybe the only woman good enough for me is the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
”Ah not too good with Nigella?”
”No. Nigella say this third baby will be our last. I said contraception is immoral and evil. She said that she is going on the pill after this. I said if she does that I will never have sex with her again. She said that would be fine by her. She says I have to reconcile my religious principles with financial reality. But trust in God and he will provide.”
”I see. Well how is it going in the department” said Sean – eager to change the subject to something less thorny.
”Pretty good. The thing is to avoid my superior’s corns and I am doing it at the moment. That is the way to climb the ranks. I want to be a headmaster one day. Why make a secret of it.? ”
”Good for you. What do you make of Murphy?”
”Don’t trust the bastard”
”Too true. I am trying to placate him though”
”Going well at all?”
”Sporadic success. With some classes it is sometimes ok.”
”How is their behaviour?”
”Often bad. Drives me up the wall. I try to ruthlessly suppress bad behaviour at the start. Uneasy peace in 4th form at the moment. ”
”How do you see your future here?”
”To be frank it is grim up north as they say. No not that northern England is the problem. Overall I dislike it here. Trying to tough out the 2 years. Only done 2 months and it is hard.”
Abel carried on drinking till he was mumbling in undertones.
There was an oval faced Business teacher named Gary. He was a former soldier and wanted people to know it. His clothes were impeccable. He was short though massive shouldered and bushy eye browed. Gary Welsey strutted about with a ”don’t mess with me” attitude and stern face. He was steadfast at discipline. A bit of a martinet in fact but no one could say he lacked control. If boys asked to shake his hand he would crush it. He was not going to hit them but he felt it was smart to let them know he was strong. Sean felt disdain for this thug who wanted to intimidate kids. He was not so plausible as super soldier. Why had he only done 5 years in the army?
Welsey was a sulky cunt and always mouthing off about how abominated Americans. Sean did not find him friendly disposed. There was an imbalance in him – Sean thought. Did this outward swagger hide and inner lack of belief? If he was so pro army how could he be anti America since the United States was the UK’s chief ally.
Sean was teaching Fourth Form. The sour faced Mrs Arrowsmith sat at the back and looked on.
”So there was mass unemployment after the First World War. You have got to remember how poor most people were then. They were lucky if they got three meals a day. My grandfather joined the army right after the First World War. He said it was the greatest day in his life. He got all these clothes and they were brand new. He grew up in a working class family of a dozen children. He never got new clothes. He only got hand me downs from his older brothers.”
Mrs Arrowsmith’s eyes gleamed. She was a socialist and this mention of working class penury appealed to her. It was also very effective in bringing home to the class what real people went through not long before. It was quite a treat to see her beaming. Usually she had a face like a flagellated posterior.
Mrs Arrowsmiths’s lessons were somehow immune from close scrutiny.
MEETING WITH MRS ARROWSMITH
Sean was summoned to a meeting with Mrs Arrowsmith after an observation. She tapped her gravedigger’s fingernails on the desk. She wore brogues and a pullover.
”So it was a pretty good lesson.” said Mrs Arrowsmith. Sean was preening himself – he did not expect to have his lesson endorsed by her. She emitted a most disagreeable odour. Rumour had it that she washed her hair with eggs.
”Oh thank you.”
”But you need to stick to the plan more exactly. And another thing. You should not be thinking how am I going to get through this lesson but what do they take away from it.” She was being authentic.
”Right” he nodded.
”Now how about buying some posters for the classroom.”
”Mr Murphy said that is not allowed.”
”All right then.”
Sean was conscious that he would have to tailor his lessons to suit the prejudices of a combative leftist. He made sure that there was an extensive diffusion of leftist shibboleths through his lessons. Mrs Arrowsmith wanted them to preach socialism – she also wanted to unearth dissenters in their midst.
MEETING WITH MURPHY
”You had a meeting with Mrs Arrowsmith.” said Murphy. Sean almost retched at the mention of that antichrist. As soon as he heard her name he knew it must be bad tidings.
”Yes, that’s right.”
”She suggested that you buy some posters and you told her that I refused to do so.” His face turned angry and his lips quivered. His eyes kept fixed on Sean as he turned his head up and away to the right. ”I did not refuse to buy posters. Don’t you go saying that to her.” He raised his eyebrows and attempted to look scary.
”You said not to buy any posters.”
”No, I said if you need posters you ask me and I will buy them for the department.”
”Anyway as for your lessons. I admit they have dynamism but you are teaching at too high a level. Some of the students do not understand the words you are using. You tell them too many facts. Facts do not matter in History. It is all about skills and opinions. We must rid ourselves of factualism in all its manifestations. ”
It was a chilling insight into modern educational ideology. Murphy equated facts with falsehood.
One day before a lesson Sean realised a board pen was running dry. He went to the department office
”Excuse me Mr Murphy my board pen is running out what do I do.?”
”You tell me”. Murphy opened a locker. There were several boxes of board pens in there. He handed one pen to Sean
”Thank you. Could I have a box of them please.”
”Certainly not. There is no way you can have a box full of them. I have to manage the budget and account for every last penny!” Tight arse!
”Listen I am a moderate where it comes to budget conservatism. You have to bear with me. Otherwise the extremists might trim our budget by 0.4%! We have had complaints.”
Was the accounts department really probing him over every ha’apeny? Murphy never volunteered who these complaints were from.
Y T G
Mrs Arrowsmith assembled the young teachers in her classroom after last lesson. Her fingernails was clogged. Where had she been shoving her digits?
She began in a fashion that was almost affable.
”We need to be culturally sensitive. But the question is how culturally sensitive. There was a Nigerian boy began the school a few years ago – joining in sixth form. His name was Dillibe Ocheba. His reports from Nigeria were all glowing. His parents said he was a prodigy. He started school here. Then I got his GCSE results from Nigeria. I had to tell him that he had failed all eight subjects. He took that very badly because it was coming from me a woman.”
Sean was nonplussed. The woman had been surprisingly frank and she had never even used an alias for the boy. So what was the lesson? Had she be wrong to be the one to inform him? Was that not legitimising the sexism that she claimed to detest? Or should she have told him anyway and been culturally insensitive? Like most of her lessons it was as clear as mud. She was ad libbing – as she forbade Sean to do. Breaking the silence about sexism was supposedly a valiant thing to do. He was at a loss to see what this anecdotage did to make him a better teacher.
LOWER SIXTH – SLOW.
Jamie continued to chat in lessons. He also excavated his nose nonstop. His finger was so far up his snout that Sean thought the boy may be picking out his brain.
One of the more amiable boys in the set was Luke Kony. Kony was a bright eyed Ghanean. He was a slim boy with a properly black complexion. He was not bright but he was somewhat attentive. Luke Kony’s voice sounded like falsetto which did not help his case. Erwin-Montagu roundly abused Kony saying ”You have AIDS”. Kony reacted very calmly. Later in the same lesson E-W said to Kony ”you are a stupid nigger.”
Sean reprimanded Erwin Montagu. He knew better than to give him detention. He remembered what had happened last time he tried to discipline someone. He informed Fr Augustine. ”Oh it is no big deal” he said.
A new boy joined the class. He was also black and came from Edinburgh. Both his parents were Malawian surgeons.Malcolm Banda was his name. Malcolm was a slender, genteel, pensive and bespectacled boy. He was on the reserved and sensitive side and spoke with a Morningside accent. The others dubbed him black faced Scotch – like the breed of sheep. Sean was horrified by this racism. He gave Jamie detention for verbally abusing Malcolm in this way. Of course the housemaster Fr Augustine again overturned the detention. Racist bulling of a new pupil was entirely permissible – according to Augustine.
The class continued to be an academic dystopia. Sean wished there was a Wackford Squeers to knock some sense into this lot. It was the polar opposite. They were far too indulged.
Why did their parents pay mega fees for them to fail Sean wondered. What these boys gained from being in school was beyond him.
A new Korean girl joined the class.
”Hello and what is your name?”
”My name is Young Ho. But you can call me Cynthia.” The class dissolved in laughter. Sean struggled to keep a straight face.
She proved to be a diligent if laconic pupil.
SLOW THIRD FORM.
A Korean girl joined the class.
”What is your name?”
”My name is Minj” she said.
”Ah I see.” Sean managed not to corpse. Fortunately the rest of the class were too young to perceive any mirth in the name.
One evening Sean was dining in the refectory. A middle aged teacher came in in casual clothes.
”Hello there” he said sitting down with a huge plate of salad.
”Hello my name is Sean” extending his hand,
”Yes, I know I am Jack Laverty.” He was below middle height and had pinched cheeks. His greying hair was short and slightly curly. He was tanned and sinewy. He had little grey eyes and large lips. Laverty spoke in a distinctly northern English accent. There was a relic of his handsomeness still remaining in him.
”I teach Classics. By the way you were at Midland School a couple of years back? You taught my daughter Aoife and my son Eoin ”
”Oh yes that’s right.” He swallowed hard. These two had been among the most odious pupils.
”My ex wife is down there.”
Sean remembered the ex wife. Mrs Laverty was loathsome – no surprise this man had divorced her.Her prune like face was the last that Sean wanted to see.
”Oh I see yes, I remember her.”
”Anyway, I get to see my son every other weekend. It is going well now. Time was there was a news blackout from my wife. Took him cycling around Ireland this summer.”
”You from Ireland?”
”Like most people I have an Irish grandparent. I go back to Galway – narrow streets and damp, round hills; meeting shepherds – lovely. ”
Most people? Thought Sean. In certain towns in England yes but overall England was a little less than 25% Irish.
”I am fully Irish.”
”I see. Anyway you should join a trades union.”
”Oh I am in one.”
”Oh brilliant. Up here we need one I am telling you. My grandfather was very into the unions. He fought for working people all his life. There is a pub named after him.”
”Wow. Well that is quite an achievement. Had I been around 100 years ago I might have been a socialist. I forget how bad conditions were. Up to and including the 60s the Labour Party did a lot of good.”
”Unfortunately you do not get a lot of good done around that pub now. Mostly a drunken wrestle. Went there last year. There was a boozer battle. One young lad was bleeding profusely and they called the bobbies. ”
”My word . Best of out of it.”
”Yes, I am. I do not go to the pub much. I go to hear mass a lot now. I was not that religious when I was younger. I got into my faith more since my divorce. I know it is a contradiction and maybe I am a massive hypocrite. It is not unprecedented for a Catholic to be divorced. ”
Laverty was to prove to be modest and convivial. He was by far the best member of that family. What horrible children he had sired. Sean often saw him jogging around. He could eat a tonne and not put on weight because he exercised so much.
”I am going to ask for a chav hunting licence for Christmas” said Erwin Montague.
Sean tried not to judge them too harshly for their snooty attitudes. At his age he had felt the same. Whatever one’s milieu at an impressionable age it is impossible not to be influenced by one’s peers.
In one tutorial Sean happened to mention evolution. ”What is evolution?” said Magnus in a very childlike voice.
”The fact that we slowly turned from monkeys into people.” Sean was overwhelmingly surprised that Magnus had had the intellectual curiosity to ask such a question.
”That is not true. God made us in seven days.”
”Six days if you believe the Bible” Sean delighted in correctly the creationist. ”he rested on the seventh day because the almighty was tired” he could no suppress a smirk at the self-contradiction in Genesis.
Magnus could not be blamed for disbelieving in Evolution. His brain seemed to be disproof of it.
The staggering stupidity of his pupils weighed on his mind. The parents were minted. They were paying 25 000 quid per skull. That was not all inherited wealth. The parents must have some gumption. How could such clever parents produce children who in some cases were as thick as pig shit? Then again someone does not have to be scholarly to make a lot of money. They most academic types are often penurious.
Sean was feeling overwrought from the endless disruptiveness of some of his pupils. He was much put upon due to Murphy’s prediliction for pointless paperwork.
Sean heard a rumour that Burley Wookey would go into York to buy porn and alcohol for the others. He could procure it because he looked older than then. Sean did not turn a hair. He was not going to stop them doing something harmless. Having been to a boarding school gave him expertise in how such places operated.
Sean did not like having to forecast grades for this lot. Apart from Geoffrey they would all be abysmal.
Sean particularly detested one teacher. Robert John was a short and obese art teacher. He had thin but spikey hair. His dangerously bulging eyes were not lined up. Robert’s face was an abomination so he could never get a girlfriend. He glowered at people in an attempt to intimidate them. He shambled along and sniffed the air like a hunted beast. Robert puffed out his chest in a risible bid to appear tough. His pot belly ruined the effect. He got drunk and thought this made him hard. He was prone to many an indiscretion. Robert would blurt out confidential information. Robert John would also boast of his brothel experiences and all the drugs he had taken. He had tattoos on his arm. He would often strip his sleeve to show them off. They looked as artistic as a doodling pad. He would hilariously attempt to threaten people. Robert would also mouth off racial epithets. He had a complex about being Walian.. When anyone pulled him up for his atrocious behaviour he would accuse that person of being anti Cymric.
When stocious he would take his shirt off. Being obese this did him no favours. He had more hair on his back than on his head. He would drink himself into a coma.
Robert was a pervert and rumoured to be a panty sniffer.
Sean was hooked on wikipedia. One article would lead to more questions and links. He became very well informed. He had read The Damage Done from end to end a few times and authored the wikipedia article on Warren Fellowes. He was forever calling him Hastings. This came from Warren having used the alias Gregory Hastings Barker.
There was a teachers’ smokers area at the back of the main building. The three who frequented it were the Maths teacher Jane, Martin Grenier and Lisa Penn.
Martin was a pasty faced, chubby 40 something Classics teacher with a Mancunian accent. He was also head of sixth form. His thin grey hair was worn in a comb over and was below normal height. He was amiable and capable. He was not prepossessing but managed to command the respect of his pupils. He had run a house for a year. He was forever chewing mints to try to mask the smell of tobacco.
Jane was always wincing as though in pain. She had bags under her eyes and appeared grey around the gills.. She had got to the age when she had too many cats for her sanity.
Up above the smoking area was a house for retreats. Those in the winter of their years sometimes came there. They were occasionally tourists going around Catholic religious sites.
Fr James went outside his house to smoke. He sometimes caught boys smoking whilst having a tope himself. He asked the boys should he give up?
”No that would make you even more difficult to live with.”
Smoking brought him closer to salvation.
Each house had a soiree once a year. Punch was served and even year 9 got a little alcohol. People would go to gaol over that in the USA.
Jane went to Codd’s house punch. Pupils said ”Miss you must promise to give up smoking.”
”Ok I promise” she said ill advisedly. Jane then felt honour bound to make good on this undertaking.
Sean went to see Fr Edmund again in his little wood she near Junior House.
The priest said ”You must marry and multiply. It is your bounden duty as a layman. Have many, many children – at least seven. Make sure they all go to this school. You are a teacher you can afford it.”
As an ascetic this monk knew the value of everything and the price of nothing.
”I see. What is the basis of your faith?” asked Sean.
”I have an unquenchable desire for God. I feel the Holy Spirit.”
”What about disparate churches. Are they Christian too?”
”Yes we are all part of the Church of Christ.” said the father liberally.
If only this outlook was shared by some in Ulster who gunned down others for where they were baptised. Such mediaeval ferocity with churches set to the torch was only a few years before. Sean was well read on that conflict and the no holds barred attitude of loyalist terrorists
Edmund told his life story. ”I am from the West Midlands. My father was blind but made good money as a solicitor. We are English Catholics. My grandparents converted around ethe turn of the century. Anyway I came here to the valley aged 7. Went to the prep school. Then I came to the senior school. Academically I was never going to set the world ablaze. No great shakes at games either. But I am good with my hands. Anyway I left after A levels. Only got one A level and that was Divinity and E grade. I got a job in a Catholic prep school. I wanted to join the order. Was my Latin good enough? Seemed they would not let me join. But I prayed very hard and they did. So I was 20 when I came back and I have been here ever since. I know Miss Penn. I have been in to her class and spoken to her pupils.”
DOWN THE BOOZER.
Sean wandered to the pub. As he did so he passed Pinfold – the village idiot. The sulky faced youth was sidling home for a tongue lashing from his distressed mother no doubt.
At the White Swan the usual suspects were there. SO were a few more. Alexandra Bishop was there. ”When I was at university someone from the Catholic Society went around piercing condoms with a pin. Should have been done for murder.”
Abel was saying, ”I am applying to go to Rome for this summer. I wish to teach sacred theology there. Maybe at the Venerabile or the Gregorian University.”
Sean thought that Abel was increasingly off his rocker. How would such a university accept him with only a Bachelor’s degree.
”We need to restore the papal nobility. It still exists but they need to issue more titles. I shall be asking to be made a duke.” Sean could see that Abel was not joking nor was he even that drunk.
”I see. How wonderful.”
”Yes, I have been reading up on the papabile. Glad they did not plump for Siri or Bennelli. They are monstrous reformers. We need an out and out reactionary. The conclave is guided by the holy spirit.Cum clavis – with the key. They are locked in you see.”
”Oh yes I know – waiting for white smole”
”Quite right. Well as you know they do not have to choose a cardinal. Cardinals have only been around for 1000 years. Used to be election by acclamation as in the people of Rome shouted for their preferred candidate. A bit difficult to gauage the decibells for the candidates if the amount of noise is close for the different ones. But the Holy Spirit made sure that the church always, always picked the right one. There is no rule that they need to even elect a man in holy orders. It so happens that they have always chosen a man in holy orders. But they could choose any Catholic man. So when the conclave was on I waited patiently by my phone. I prayed very hard that the Holy Spirit might guide the college of cardinals to choose me. Unfortunately they did not – this time.”
Sean looked at him intently – with mouth agape. He divined that Abel was not taking the mick.
”I know I find these things scintillating. Since this pope was crowned I have read up about it a lot. ” said Sean ”Next time expect this announcement – annuntio vobis gaudeum magnum. Habemus papam. Emminentissiumum ac reverendissiumum dominum, dominum Johannium Cardinalum Gallagherium qui sibi nomen imposuit Pium tredeciumum.”
Abel feigned a chuckle. Sean could tell that Abel did not like the quip. It seemed to be at Abel’s expense.
Abel was becoming the pub bore – speaking to himself more than anyone else. Sean was too charitable to ignore him.
”We must bring back the cardinal’s hat. There is one on the school’s coat of arms.” said Abel.
The head of rugby was a noticeable figure around the school. His pate was as bald as a baby’s bottom. His black hair was trim at the back and sides of his narrow head. Mark Flower was slender and bang on normal height. But he moved with vitality and commanded enormous esteem among the boys. As a sports coach he taught the thicko subject – Business Studies. That is Economics for those who cannot do Maths. Flower wore his PE kit to lessons. He often sported a T shirt with the words ”How is my drinking? Call 1 800 eat shit.”
Sean could not believe that Flower got away with that. The man wore specs but there was nothing geeky about him. His Yorkshire accent provoked no contempt among the pupils. His sporting prowess trumped their snobbery.
JUMPING OFF THE BANK.
At the front of the school there was a steep bank. A boy in Olaf’s 4th form was one of those who liked to jump off it. He was Richard Charles. Richard was a chubby boy who was big for his age but benignly immature. This regressed 14 year old launched himself into the mud with glee.
Sean noticed the boys parents one time. The mother was a porky face woman in her 40s with dyed blonde hair. She wore too much makeup but somehow managed to be nubile.
”There will be my ex husband looking daggers at me!” she said and stalked off.
Sean came to know Glenda. She was the wife of the deputy headmaster. Glenda was a woman with iron grey hair which she wore in a mystic Meg fringe. She was about the dullest woman one could meet. She was slender and not bad looking. Her voice was oddly monotonous for an English teacher. Her husband had enough vivacity for both of them. Opposites attract.
BROWN TALKS TO Y T G.
Mr Brown came to talk to Y T G. It might be better than the usual otiose rubbish. Sean was glad not to hear another left wing philippic from that arch bitch Arrowsmith. Brown was an accomplished public speaker. Sean liked him – he was a live wire. His talk was very animated and about child protection.
”A housemaster put his head into the bathroom to tell a boy to hurry up having a shower after lights out. He happened to see him in he nude. That was fine because he logged it with me.”
MEETING WITH MURPHY
”It has come to my attention that you are letting students wear jackets in class.”
It was a typically self important beginning. ”Yes, I have.”
”Well that is not allowed. May I ask why?”
May I ask? Er… you just have. How pretentious.
”There is no reason not to. Why waste time and breath? Win their good will.”
”It shall cease forthwith.”
Fr Michael displayed his usual dearth of gravitas. Then Brown spoke unreluctantly. He was convivial and projected his voice. When he spoke they sat up and listened. His name conveyed respect. Fr Michael did not respect them or disrespect them. They did not respect him or even notice him. He was a high profile non entity.
Sean read on the school rules. Any pupils who engaged in any act of sexual intimacy was liable to instant expulsion. So 18 year olds cannot kiss but they could marry? How illogical and inhuman. The school had a certain moral authority – having sheltered paedophiles for decades.
If a girl became pregnant and had an abortion she would be allowed to stay because no one would be any the wiser. If she made the choice for life she would be kicked out. It was typical of the Church’s hypocrisy and cant. All about appearance and not compassion or true goodness.
LISA IN RUSSIA
”I did Russian as part of my degree. I went to Moscow and Ulyanovsk.
”You lucky duck.”
”I was tutoring a 3 year old Russian boy. They offered me a job- to match the salary and live in their house for free. Only 4 hours a day.”
”Why didn’t you go for it?”
”It was boring and not going anywhere.”
”You would have been in London without stress” Sean would have killed for such a job.
IN THE BUSHES
When pupils were in church Sean looked in the bushes they used to go to. There were cigarettes, empty bottles even and open but unused condom. There was one bush by the village lane. There was another near the astroturf. It had a den.
ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.
Abel was at his pedagogical best ” everything has a cause. Every cause is caused by something else. There must be a primal cause that is the cause of all. Causes cannot be infinitely recessive. The first cause is called God.”
Consequences can be infinite but causation not?
Mr Loveday was the Director of Studies. Like most people who held this job title he was mathematically dull. He was thin in a way that expressed especial meanness. His only weight was in his egregiously fat lips. He was mean even to himself. Loveday was notoriously miserly. On his wife’s birthday he had taken her out for a meal : to McDonald’s.
Loveday was fairly pale and he was bald on top. He let the at the back and sides of his head grown very long. He cut a ridiculous figure. What little hair he had produced snowstorms of dandruff. Perhaps he ate the stuff. He was too tight fisted to buy deodorant and reeked. Loveday always wore grey – grey flannel trousers. He seemed to have only one pair. He had grey leather slip-ons – saved on the cost of laces. Loveday wore a grey tie and grey jacket. The only non grey thing he wore was a white shirt. It is impossible to find a grey shirt.
Loveday – what a name. The most singularly inappropriate name of all. Loveday spoke in a very high pitch. If one did not know better one might have assumed him to have been gelded. He had bags under his eyes permanently.
How he had wed and sire children was a mystery to everyone.
Sean was having dinner in the refectory one evening. Abel brought his goodwife and children along. Nigella’s bump was visible and she looked fatigued.
The two little boys were there. Primus was aged three and Secundus was aged one and a half.
”Secundus” said Abel to his child, ”This is Sean. Say hello.”
Secundus said ”What’s a doin’? Whassa doin’? Whatsa dooooin’? What is doin’? Whatcha doin’?
”I am eating my dinner” said Sean in a playful singsong.
”Primus” Abel addressed his firstborn ”Sean works with me. He likes rugby.”
”Yes, I do. Only wish I got to coach it.”
”Abel tell Sean your full name.”
The toddler said, ”Primus Pius Rugby Football Cricket Batman Superman Kennington.”
”Well what a mightily impressive name” said Sean with a mirthful raise of the eyebrow.
”That is not really his name – just the first two” said Abel drolly.
One of the notable pupils in the class was Raphael Knox. He had jet black hair and pale skin. He was a reasonably able pupil and likable to boot.
As they were filing in one morning Zoe said ”Raphael’s great uncle is a famous priest.”
”Ronald Knox? Well I never” said Sean.
Vivian Birdwood Whistler was also a memorable member of the class. He was very tall but not confident or voluble. He too had black hair and very messy it was too. His face was a profusion of acne and he never caused trouble.
Only Keenan was uppity. How dare you matey cock! Sean wanted to give him a smack around the chops.
To seek solace Sean would sometimes look out across the vale. He gazed on the blue finged fir trees a mile hence. There were knolls and gulleys in between. The landscape provided him with calm and comfort. The low grey, sombre clouds hung there almost constantly in November but this did not darken his spirits overmuch. He needed to do a lot to distress after boisterous classes.
It was monotonous teaching the same thing to two classes. Some of them found History obscure. All but 3rd form had chosen it. Why? Often they found all other subjects even harder or more mind numbing.
Sean heard himself groan when he contemplated teaching his unfavourite classes such as slow Lower Sixth. When that bumptious lot was in the classroom resounded to their backchat. This provoked his wrath. The class was in frenzied tumult. He had to shriek in testy suppression. Their progress was fitful and uneven. He felt miserable with them – dreading approaching the door when he had them. His father had said work should not be something on loathes doing. People should go to work eager to do it. For Sean it was the opposite.
One morning as he walked out to the minibus before dawn he counted down to his departure. In 20 months time he would have done his 2 years here. There was little merriment for him and a huge amount of grief. For what? For a small salary? He was not even helping many pupils make headway. Some of them were good and he liked them but many were shits and he abominated them. Carry on here for 2 years? It was a doleful prospect. But he could not leave. He could NOT. He had no savings and nowhere to go. He could not go to his parents place as he clashed with them far too much. Where was he to put his stuff?
Toiling on lesson plans was worse than teaching some classes. It was so futile. He was aghast at the state of education. So dumbed down. Such abject surrender to bad behaviour. Pupils could get away with anything. Teachers were burdened with endless purposeless paperwork and could be sacked or even banned for trifling offences.
There was not much to be happy about. An evening of jollity in the pub. There were some kindly people in the school. He had a third of the year off. Was that worth it for the agony of the other two-thirds? His domicile was handsome – not that he particularly wanted it. He was happier in one room in Wells than he had been here.
His parents sent him his bicycle. It finally arrived. But the tyres were not pumped up. He needed to buy a bike pump. But where could he go that? He would have to go to town. He did not have a driving licence and so was stranded. In Wells he could have walked to get one. He was trapped here. It was unbearable.
Sean found out that Guido had been busted for looking at porn. For this a boy was severely punished. Sean thought it absurd that the boy be hauled over the coals for following his instinct in a way that harmed no one including himself. The school took an absurdly hardline and externally suspended him. It was like blaming the boy for being a boy.
Sean cast his mind back a decade. He had had girlie mags as a school boy. Only way to keep oneself on the straight and narrow as it were: i..e not queer in an all boys school. A healthy diet of red hot Dutch and skin mags kept him hetero. He had a textbook called Moral Problems. Sean found it a delectable irony to hide his morally disimproving literature inside that book entitled Moral Problems.
He was leading his boys down to a footer practise. He quipped ”All’s well that bends well.”
Sean was walking through Big Study when he happened to see Fr Edmund coming the other way. Beside him was a young priest in a very old fashioned version of clericals – with the full skirt and the silk belt.
”Hello Sean, this is Marek and he is from the Czech Republic.”
”Hello Marek” said Sean shaking hands. Marek was a tall, slim good looking man of about 30 with black hair and long but sanguine face.
”So nice to hear that the faith is doing well in countries that were not long ago deprived of God.” said Edmund.
”How are you?” said Marek in a thick accent.
”Very well and how are you doing?”
”I am good thank you it is nice to be in England.”
In November Sean was on the phone to his sister Prunella. She and her husband were going to visit with their two little children.
Sean told Miss Jenkins. The night before Prunella and her hubby Nigel were due to arrive Miss Jenkins came around.
”Sean I am worried about these two little children you say are arriving. Will there be enough bedding?”
”Yes, I think so. They are more babies than children.”
”Well I will bring you some more bedclothes.”
”That is very good of you. They can share beds with their parents.”
Miss Jenkins was a decent sort. ”The heating is not on in your place” she said looking anxious.
”Yes because you said it comes on when it is cold.”
”Well switch it on.”
”Oh I thought only you could switch it on”
”No you silly boy you need to switch it on.”
”Oh sorry. I see. I had not realised well where is the switch?”
”Here in the fusebox by the stairs” she led him to it and opened the fusebox before switching it on
”Ah thanks very much.”
It was barely a month before Christmas and there had been no heating. The house had been chilly. Sean had assumed the old hag was trying to freeze him to death. But in fact she was a kind soul.
Sean finished his house duty on Friday. In his house he entertained Lisa Penn, her boyfriend and their friends the couple – They were having a few beers.
Close to midnight Prunella and her husband were on the phone.
”We are in the village – in the main street. Where are you?”
”I will come out and get you. ” Then he turned to his pals ” You have to pretend to be my servants. Make up jobs for yourself.”
Sean was still in his work clothes – a white shirt minus tie, a beige checked jacket, black slacks and black leather laceups. He hurried into the street. It was fresh in temperature. He spotted their hatchback and beckoned them over. They came down the little alley and into the small car park in front of the double cottage.
Prunella got out. She was a slender woman of 30 and above average height. He apple juice coloured hair was tied back. She and Sean exchanged a fraternal hug – her was visibly jaded after a 5 hour drive from the south coast.
”Please come in” he gestured to the door ” there is a welcoming committee” as they stepped in he announced ”you must meet my servants.”
”Hello I am the housemaid” she curtseyed
”I am the gardener” said her husband
”I am the cook” said Lisa
It was just typical of Lisa’s boyfriend to refuse to play along. Such a droll fantasy was far too contemptible for the philosopher.
Sean went to visit Fr Edmund in his woodwork workshop. There he met the infirm Fr Ben who spoke in falsetto – just on his way out. Edmund’ s voice was high pitched too.
His workshop had odds and ends lying around. There was a woodstove. It was delightfully old world. The smell of the monk;s tobacco was soothing.
Sean came to know another one of his pupils in dim Lower Sixth. At first he had only known the excellent and the terrible. Justinian was part of that mush in the middle. He had dense and somewhat wavy dark blond curls. His manner was reserved yet self-assured. He was of normal height and built. His skin was slightly brown for one of the European race. This boy belong to a well known aristocratic family. Did this explain his confident diffidence? Sean found that those with blue blood were seldom demonstrative. Despite his Germanic origins the boys’ mother tongue was French. His English contained but a trace of French inflection.
(FITZALAN HOWARD) HEBERT PERCY
Sean came to know one of the 3rd formers in St Olaf’s. He did not teach him but the boy was noticeable for being the shortest one in the house. He had long, messy blond hair and was rather tanned. He was known as a joker. Sean heard that the boy came from a noble house.
Sean spoke to Dr Shilling, ”Is he the son of the duke of….”
”No cadet branch. It is a distant relative of theirs who is the duke” said Dr Shilling.
Sean was mightily impressed that a scientist should know such a thing as there being a cadet branch.
In late November instructions came out for reports. Mr Loveday sent voluminous and very complex instructions. These could be done ”sitting by the poolside in the Caribbean” said Loveday. No they could not since they had to be done before the end of term.
Sean read the instructions and made a start. It was incredibly tricky. Import record. Merge the template. It had to be the right one. Sean wrote lots of reports only to find out he had done it on a read only version of the document. None of it had been saved. He was furious. He had come in on Sunday to do it and get ahead of the game. More haste less speed. Absorb the instructions. He had to re do many of them. Then Murphy made him redo many again for being too this or too that. He used the word ‘progress’ a lot. So he was bored of that word and decided to vary it with headway. Murphy said he was not allowed to use headway. Why not?
Sean strove to be positive. However, sometimes he had to make some criticisms of certain pupils. He wanted to say that some made insufficient effort which was a huge understatement. ”That should have been sorted out already” said Murphy. Well it had not been. Problems were to be hidden from the parents and not faced up to. That was the schools attitude. Some pupils were extremely rude and very disruptive. No, Sean was not allowed to say that. ”Parents will not like it”. It was all about telling parents what they wanted to read. What about honesty? Did parents not deserve to know the truth? Problems could never be tackled if they were not faced up to.
Sean wrote that one boy was ‘tantalisingly’ close to the next grade. Murphy told him to delete that word. These had to be as bland as possible.
Sean predicted everyone in 5th form a C. Murphy asked if he was confident about this. Sean chose to stick with his prediction.
Writing these reports was maddening. Then he had to print them out. The teachers were fighting over the printers. Printing things – isn’t that what the secretaries are for? No, they are far too busy buffing their nails. They reports all had to be signed. Why? It could not be in red ink.
Reports caused much time to be lost and caused an immense amount of grief.
Alexandra Bishop later told Sean his reports were terrible. Sean pointed out that this was because he had had to do them three times. He was not in the mood for writing decent reports when Murphy censored much of what he said. He felt like saying to Murphy – if I am so bad at writing these then you write then. I teach them you do not.
Of a Monday afternoon the CCF would get into their combats and do their thing. Some ex soldiers among the staff trained them. Girls as well as boys got into these camouflage clothes. Sean had little time for soldiers. They tended to be the most ignorant, vain, vacuous and pig headed of people. Tended to be – not all. Always follow the crowd and be partisan. Conformity always prevailed over rectitude. Open mindedness was a vice for them. Their pathological obsession with appearance said it all.
It tended to be the odious pupils who enlisted in the CCF but a few were personable. The CCF did not discriminate and took weaklings. Some of them had a soldierly bearing but others slouched on parade. Those running the CCF tolerated it. The school was third rate even in this regard.
The prince of Bavaria was in the CCF. Despite it being his third year he still had the unprincely rank of private.
One of the teachers of BS was an ex army officer from an unfashionable regiment. He thought he was he man and wore a permanent scowl. He was short and muscular, speaking in what he thought was a booming voice. He strutted around with his chest puffed out. His chauvinism extended to childish anti American screeds.
Sean knew that a soldier could be a decent person. Some were intelligent and brave enough to question a few military shibboleths. A boy could be the beau sabeur of a Catholic soldier.
Sometimes Sean would see Helena – that very intellectually gifted girl in upper sixth. She was said to be a shoo-in for Oxford to read classics. She was still doing a line with that French boy. Sean could not help but feel he was beneath her. As she walked down the corridors she would sometimes give him a knowing look. Did she have a crush on him? Perhaps he flattered himself. She would would flick her long tawny tresses from one side of her head to the other. There was none of the nervousness that he had observed in other girls who fancied him. The pupil was compelled to go out with someone her own age. A girl of 17 is like a boy of 21 in maturity.
Sean could only bate his breath for the Christmas holidays. What Mafeking there would be when he arrived in London. He repined that he had taking this job. Sean yearned for his carefree Oxford days. There was always something happening – a party to go to, a debate to participate in, an OUCA speaker meeting or a rugger match to play. But those splendid days were irrecoverable. Here in the valley Sean was suffering. He would not suffer more than this till his beau geste four years later.
Sean felt trapped in the valley. Oh for a horseless carriage! Abel was taking driving lessons.
Sean had to attend mass in the church with the house occasionally. The school was devoted to public service which was commendable. But they did not serve people of straw. They only served the affluent. The wealthy need schooling too. It did seem to go against the grain. Was Jesus not the friend of the poor? The school at least raised money for the penurious.
Fr Ethelwulf led the concelebration. He at least had a leader’s mien unlike Fr Michael the headmaster. One of those by his side was that German priest Fr Reinhold. Sean had not seen him since the village fayre in that grey stone courtyard by the village church. Reinhold had been a surgeon – saving lives every single day. Now he made cider that contributed to various road accidents. What had gone wrong?
The homily was on humility. It was something the most loathsome pupils needed much more of. The good ones were not up themselves. The stuck up pupils needed to learn from humble Jesus. Pride comes before a fall and how Sean wanted to see some of them fall flat on their faces. These cunts were a disgrace to Catholicism. Sean reminded himself that much of Catholicism was admirable. The bad Catholics were not bad mainly due to the religious denomination. They would have misused any religious faith they were brought up in. Such personality types existed in all strands of Christianity and in other religions likewise.
Sean was thankful that the crucifix there was not gory. He had seen horrid ones in Latin America. Death is not picturesque especially death in that manner.
It made Sean wonder anew why men became monks? They were odds and sods.