Sean came to know Peckwater. He was a Chemistry teacher – one of the youngest people on the staff.
Peckwater was spare and had a round, flat face. He had a beak-like nose and mid brown hair. He had hawkish good looks and this was unnoticed by the females on the staff. He was so youthful that he was often mistaken for a schoolboy. He was an amiable sort and a decent rugby player. He had been made an assistant housemaster straightaway.
When boys from that house swore in Sean’s presence he would quietly reprimand them. Their retort would be ”but sir my assistant housemaster swears all the time.”
Sean also knew that the housemaster Hugo Codd also swore his head off in the presence of his pupils. Sean did not mind bad language and had a mouth like a sewer. He was decent enough not to speak like that when pupils were around.
Murphy was wont to materialise in Sean’s classroom at the most inopportune moments. Sean’s desk was cluttered with oddments. His desk signified his creative and disorderly nature. He had a fantastic ability to improvise and detested planning. Perhaps he was more reactive than proactive but the way he did it was about putting the pupils first.
Murphy would tell him that spontaneity was not the way to do it. Sean could scarcely plead ignorance since planning was dinned into him on his PGCE course. Extemporising was not the way to do it. Sean knew better than to say this unpalatable doctrine was bunkum.
”There are procedures and protocols to be rigidly adhered to and they shall be. You must follow my instructions to the finest detail. Every jot and tittle must be complied with. There can be not the slightest deviation from the plans I have laid down! I shall see that you have dotted every I and crossed every T”
”One does not cross capital T’s” said Sean. This sent Murphy into an apoplexy of rage.
He had succeeded in enervating him but this was not good for Sean’s job security. He had been unable to resist the jibe.
Sean went to the carol service in the church. There was a procession and there were many splendid Christmas carols. It was one of the few acts of worship which gave him aesthetic pleasure.
The 60 or so priests were there in their white vestements. They all said mass together. They did the hand gestures in unison. It was fascinating to wonder what made these monks tick. They were seemingly rational men – in most cases – who had chosen the most boring possible lifestyle. Sean was tempted to penetrate their ranks just for a weekend – to try it as a postulant for a weekend. But not that would be too dull.
The pupils had all been given candles as well as hymn sheets. Half way through the carol service Sean spotted Fr Augustine walked out of the pontification of priests and up the stairs to the upper stalls where St Olaf’s were seated. Someone was causing trouble. Would the malefactor be unmasked – Sean asked himself? Fr Augustine made a beeline for Pinfold. Sean was seated several rows back and did not know why Augustine was suddenly coming up in the middle of mass to deal with Pinfold.
As they left mass Sean went up to Augustine ”How come you had to come upstairs to the bit we were sat in?”
”Pinfold was dripping wax from his candle onto people below.”
It was just typical of Pinfold – he was so contra mundum. This sociopath wanted to be hated. He got what he wanted. He was abominated in spades.
Sean tought about the real Catholics. Those who actually walked the walk. He did not mean necessarily eschewing contraception. He meant people who basically lived the life they espoused. Then there were imposters. These people called themselves Catholics and made no attempt at decency at all. They venerated the church only insofar as they thought it gave them some status. He knew that such people were present in all religious communities.
The severe black habits of the monks – were those really necessary? Why stick with what St Benedict had thought up in the Egyptian desert? It was comical to dress like this now and off putting to those who might be attracted to the faith.
WHERE TO GO?
His parents were in Oz. They asked him to come and stay with them. WHy would he spend an entire month’s salary going to be verbally abused by them. Sean did not want to stay with his sisters and obey their rigorous rules. He would be away from family strife.
He looked into flight to Eastern Europe.. He would discover lands he had never been to. He booked a flight to Tallinn. Where would he fly out of? Brno in the Czech Republic.
Miss Jenkins asked him about his Yuletide plans. ”It is sad that you are not spending Christmas with your family but that is your choice.” Sean was angry that she dared to tell him whom he should spend Christmas with. He badly wanted to tell her to shut her face and stay out of it. She did not know his family and it was none of her business. He would never dream of interfering in her family affairs.
St Olaf’s House held a Christmas Party. They had Christmas dinner in a dining room up in the refectory. There was lashings of seasonal fare. A Polish waitress came out to receive the thanks of the house and a bouquet of flowers in token of their appreciation. The youngest boy in the house was deputed, as custom dictated, to present the bouquet. As he did so she kissed him on both cheeks. The house cheered raucously as the young woman kissed him on both cheeks – as though it was a sexual conquest by a tiny 13 year old.
Sean sat with his lower sixth.. The boys had been mentioning Jenna Jameson in luncheon up until them. He had played dumb. But this time he decided to be incautious. The boys thought they were so clever and daring to know about her an allude to this porn star to a teacher. He sat by Burley Wookey. The boy had grown long hair and his tresses framed his pallid face.
”I had a dream quest about her” he said. The Italian and Burley Wookey were taken aback.
”What was that sorry sir?” said Burley Wookey.
”Does she have a flash point?”
They were stunned and then started to titter. ”Has she been on the beach or worn a soldier’s helmet?”
Sean was too cautious to tell them that not only had he met Jenna Jameson but that there were photos of him on her website.
Back at the house their was booze. SOme of the boys began to totter. Sean connived at them over drinking. He did not give a shit if they got pissed and Augustine had to deal with the consequences.
A film was put on for the pupils in one of the lecture rooms. MODERN LANGUAGES WOMAN went to watch it. It was a 1980s Blackadder – Rowan Atkinson as Ebeneezer Scrooge. It was a howl. Some of Scrooges barbed criticism of Christmas had merit to them. The falsity of Christmas rang true. Sean still liked Christmas and appreciated how it was needed to break up the winter. Goodwill and making an especial effort to see family and friends were all laudable. Pretending to like people whom one detested was not so praiseworthy. The idea of kindness had become a competition in ostentation. When Scrooge railed against the profligacy of Christmas this struck a chord with Sean.
”Bah humbug” – he starts eating insects called humbugs. It was very droll. Modern LANGUAGES WOman commented at the end ”Atkinson is very good at nasty. He does not do nice so well.”
MEETING WITH MURPHY
”Tomorrow you and I shall meet with Mr Loveday and Mrs Arrowsmith. It is to discuss your progress or more likely the distinct lack thereof” he sniffed. Then he pushed his lips forward and stretched them to the right. ”There are a heck of a lot of problems. You need to teach in an absolutely rigidly methodical manner. It is not rocket science.”
”What precisely do I need to do?”
”Well read up on scholarly debates. Historiography.” He sniffled.
”But you said to stick to the curriculum – that I go off on tangents. There is nothing about historiography in any curriculum”
”Well I am telling you to do it.” He twisted his mouth to the right.
”I see. So I should go off the curriculum.”
”You are to do whatever I tell you. You may think ‘bastard’ .” That was precisely what Sean thought. His animus towards Murphy was fiercer than ever. Sean was constantly reprimanded and never surprised.
”All right. I shall mug up on historiography.” It took him all he self -restraint not to roll his eyes. Murphy was forever directly contradicting himself. On the one had he told Sean to stick strictly to the curriculum. On the other hand he told Sean to go off the curriculum. Sean could not win.
Sean was coming to the conclusion that Murphy was the worst possible combination of melancholic and choleric.
MEETING WITH THE THREE.
Sean was summoned to a meeting days before the end of term. It was with Loveday, Murphy and Mrs Arrowsmith. The gruesome threesome were among the most detestable that could be imagined. It was richly ironic that Loveday should have been allotted such a name by fate. He was an eyeore of a man – as unloving as can be imagined.
It took place in Loveday’s office. Sean arrived and the three were already there. They looked angry and solemn faced. Murphy stroked his stubbly beard. They did not rise to greet him – all three were settled behind the desk. They also had him outnumbered.
Mrs Arrowsmith led the charge ”When Fr Augustine wanted you to cancel those detentions and you did not that was frustrating for him. He is a pretty successful housemaster.” Nothing about how frustrating it was for Sean – both the atrocious behaviour of the boys and the fact that he was undermined by his colleagues. Augustine breaking his promise was not commented on.
”Behaviour has deteriorated in that class” said Mrs Arrowsmith. Sean wanted to point out that when he was running it as he saw fit things were better. It was their abject surrender to disruption which had led to a breakdown in discipline.
Mrs A continued ”your teaching is not impressive for someone who has already been doing it for a couple of years.”
Murphy had set Sean a tonne of reading to do for next term. It was far more than Sean need know. Sean was always being told he taught facts too much and not enough skills. So why over burden himself with information? Normally he just read up a little the day before term. Murphy said he wanted ”at least a month of preparation.”
Mrs A said ”I gather he has given you plenty of reading to do. It is going to be a busy Christmas” the heartless bitch hectored him.
Murphy looked grim ”the grades you have predicted for 5th form. They should be higher than that.”
Maybe they should have been. What was the complaint? That the predictions were wrong? In which case Murphy could change them or that the teaching was not good enough? Could it be the low ability and poor effort of some of the members of that class?
Murphy launched into a tirade against Sean. Sean’s efforts to enforce decent behaviour earned him minutes of abuse. Constant interference and external criticism did not help. These people were supposed to be his back up and not his foes. Had he been allowed to continue to issue detentions it would have borne more results.
Loveday spoke up ”read the craft of the classroom. I am a writer of lists. You can do this to help you remember things. And if you find organisation so difficult is this the right profession for you? I put it as bluntly as that?”
Sean later realised that Loveday was right. He did not like this line of work. There were some delightful pupils and good classes. When it was going well with an excellent class it could be a superb job. But that was rare indeed. He liked actual teaching. It was the tonnes of pointless paperwork he hated. He also disliked policing duties.
Sean then spoke up. ”May I have a dyspraxia assessment.”
”Well that is not really our business” said Loveday looking at him as though it were a bizarre request.
The school made it its religion to believe in SEN. No one was bad at a subject or was ever idle. It was only they had special needs. But when it came to a teacher with SEN well then SEN did not exist.
”So my request is declined.”
”That is not what the school is here for.”
”The school’s contract says that it makes allowances for people’s disabilities and will not discriminate.”
Loveday lost his rag and shouted:
”We are not going to given you a dyspraxia assessment. SEN- that is just bullshit we tell these parents so they can think their kids are not thick ok? It has not relevance in the real world”
Murphy silently eyeballed him. Sean noticed how miserliness was etched on Murphy’s face. He spotted the raggedness at the bottom of Murphy’s trouser legs.
Murphy then trumpeted ”I am the most highly organised head of department in the kingdom and you need to measure up young man.” It was almost a comic effort.
Sean longed to put his hands around Mrs Arrowsmith’s leathery wrinkled throat and throttle the evil bitch to a much deserved death.
Sean left ashen. Later he heard on the grapevine that Mrs Arrowsmith said he was a fascist.
Sean noticed a little monk from time to the time. This man stood not more than 5’3” in height and had thin grey hair drawn over his pate. His skin was pale and there was something louche and mischievous about his manner. Fr David was a beacon to the world – well his nose was. A red beacon of alcoholism. This monk appeared to be 60 though Sean later discovered that the man was no more than 50. He wore little glasses with steel rims. Sean realised that a monk could be more enlivening company than he had once thought.
The man had a piping voice and a strikingly upper class accent ”hello I am Fr David” he said.
”Hello my name is Sean” he said shaking hands. Sean noticed that Fr David smelt of tobacco and gin. He occasionally saw the monk puffing a pipe.
”Ah Sean another bog trotter.”
”Well, yes I am.”
”You are remarkably well spoken for an Irishman. I am from Newcastle myself.”
”Thank you. You do not have a pronounced Geordie accent.”
”Well that is because my headmaster was aide de camp to Churchill and my mother worked for the BBC.”
”Ah that explains it.”
Though monks were supposed to shave daily Fr David had stubble and looked like he had had a very long night.
”You are a cradle Catholic are you?”
”Yes, father I am.”
”I am a convert which is why I am so much better than you” he chuckled. ”I can always tell someone who was brought up a Catholic from one who crossed the Tiber. You are a nice boy. Your problem is that you are heterosexual.”
”Well you are right about that. Father are you saying you are…”
The monk caught him off ”As Voltaire said there are three sexes men, women and priests.”
Sean chuckled heartily . He appreciated Fr David’s wit. He contained himself and then asked ”How did you chose to be become a priest.”
”I did not chose. It was a vocation. I was called. Don’t you know anything? Well it was logical from when I converted. My father was a small time civil servant. When I was born first thing he asked the doctor was ‘does he have footballer’s legs’? I was no use at sports but I was bright. My parents were the most boring people going. Mother was Scotch. Father did not drink. Cloyingly respectable. The most middle middle middle class. Ruthlessly self-improving you know – the last Victorians. I remember when I was little they told me we were going for a picnic. Got everything ready. Went to the park. I was excited. Laid it all out and before I could take a bite – snatched it all away. They told me it was to teach me to cope with disappointment.”
”Seems a bit unnecessary” Sean commented.
”Seems they were absolute bastards the pair of them! I went to a public school in Newcastle – you would never have heard of it. Anyway – we were Baptists. Baptist worship really is purgatorial. It was as drab and as condemnatory as you can imagine. Nothing was allowed. It would turn a boy satanist. When I was a teenager I started out on a mission to find a church that would bring me closer to God. Then I looked into the Church of England. It was bright and the music was uplifting. Maybe this was where God was. I worshiped there for a while. My parents did not object. Father said the one thing I must never do was to have any contact with Papists. He said the Catholic Church was the Italian mission to the Irish in this country. It was all a racket for the Eye ties to get rich – the Italians preached Catholicism and the Irish believed it. Then at Cambridge I read Theology. I then dared to enter a Catholic Church. It was so splendid and colourful. The mass is the uttermost sacred beauty. I thought that this is it. At last God is speaking to me. I converted as fast as they would take me. Then I told my parents. They never spoke to me again. Anyway, I knew I had a vocation but for what? I considered being a secular priest. But I did not wish to be out on the parishes under the tutelage of Fr Seamus O’Pig. So I became a monk. Here I am. I spent a year in a seminary before coming here to the monastery. There we would pray – may the boys of this college all be learned, wise and sober virgins. I was none of the four” he smirked with delighted mirth. Sean appreciated him as a fellow mischief maker.
”But father are you saying you are gay?”
”Oh come come now – you telling me you never experimented with another boy at Winchester?”
”No, I did not actually.”
”You boring prig.”
”Well when I applied to join the order they have the most hilarious way of asking you if you are gay. The abbot studied his finger nails and said slowly almost off hand ‘So do you have any… supportive relationships?’ So I decided to play him along and I said ”Yes, I do as a matter of fact. He is big strong and hairy. Every morning he licks me all over?”The abbot asked ”You are a practising homosexual?” I said ”No, I was describing my Alsatian. Anyway they let me into the order.”
”So you have never been a practising homosexual”
”Look, I do not have sex. That is because it destroys relationships. Is it my turn to bugger him or his turn to bugger me? Sex introduces all sorts of petty tensions and jealousies. But it is just nice to wake up with someone once in a while and I pull myself off and he pulls himself off and that is that.”
” I see father but that is a sin.”
”Oh so what . Nobody is perfect. God created me like this in his own image. They sent me to St Benet’s Hall last year. I was honoured to go to bed with a beautiful undergraduate. The trouble is that he had lumpy sperm. ”
”Oh my goodness how did you end up in bed with him.”
”I grabbed his balls then one thing led to another.”
”I see well Father do not try that with me”
”No you are not my type. You are too big and masculine.”
”I am relieved to hear it.”
”No I am going off for a smoke. Come with me”
”All right ” said Sean. He was finding this sinful monk a hoot.
He pulled out a hip flask ”Let’s walk through the woods. I do not get many miles to the pint so soon we shall have to return to the monastery so I can fill up on gin.” It seemed the booze had loosened his tongue. As the strolled the decrepit old monk took out a hip flask and imbibed liberally. He was a very droll character but time and alcohol had wearied him. There was still a twinkle of comic brilliance in him. This man had once been president of the Oxford Union.
”I was quite a dandy when I was young. At my farewell debate I sang I was a fair curate then. ”
Fr David continued his ribald stories liberally laced with vulgarities. The priest was plainly in an inebriated state. Sean could hardly believe his ears. His claims needed some verification but propriety forfended Sean asking anyone. Sean was bemused that so vivacious and scabrous a character should have turned his back on a world of fun and locked himself away in a monastery. The man was free from pomposity but did like the sound of his own voice. His humorous tales showed him to be the scourge of the self important. He was the monastic jester.
Sean decided to keep this quiet. Such stories would be highly damaging to the man’s ecclesiastical career. The priest’s indiscretions were staggering.
The final few days before the end of term seemed so drawn out. Sean was desperate for the term to end. He had not been so keen to get out of school since he was 8. He did not feel like a master but like a schoolboy.
He put on a quiz for his classes. There was a box of chocolates for the winning team. He explained the rules. There was a team captain. Despite his finest efforts to induce the Christmas spirit many would not play nicely. The insisted on carping- it is not fair. You give them easy questions and us hard ones. Harrumphers then said they would be mere bystanders to the game.
Sean was there early on a sunny December morning. He had breakfast in casual clothes. He took his hold all to the coaches. Fr Augustine was there to see off his boys.
Sean had volunteered for London train duty. This meant a free ticket. He sat beside Watson on the way down. The boy watched Lock Stock and two Smoking Barrels on his laptop.
Sean had never felt so rattled after a term before. The incessant execration had been hard to take. He knew he had better think of backup jobs in case his current one fell through.
They got to the choo choo station. My God it felt good to be away from the Vale of Tears. He boarded the train and was finally relaxed. The pupils were in an expansive mood. Some went to the bar to buy alcohol and Sean was not inclined to prevent them. Why should he cause himself aggro for a school that would not back him up? In fact it constantly cut him off at the knees when he tried to uphold the rules. He was supposed to be a conveyor of information to the pupils. Except that he wasn’t. It was child centred learning. That was the fad. This fashion would change next year. The year after that it would change back again. So stay awake. There would be a new Education Secretary then. He or she would order a total overhaul. Too eager to leave his or her mark on things. It was revolution en permanence. But Sean was too didactic he was told. Didactic means teaching. That is a problem nowadays.
Sean sat beside Dr Shilling. He told Shilling how he was so worried because he had such terrible assessments from Murphy. ”I would not worry about it” said Shilling. ”It will get better” Shilling’s accent was once smoothed away but become more pronounced as they neared London.
Sean felt better every mile he came closer to London. He reflected on how his gifts were squandered. He had so much to give. Sean could achieve so much with able pupils but he very seldom got them. Why was he wasting his talents and time on these fuckers? He was bruised by constant carping.
Shilling was a decent sort. He said ”I am going to a Chinese restaurant – you want to come”.
No thanks. Shilling took it in an unruffled manner.
Sean walked out of King’s Cross and felt like a prisoner released. Sean thought how different termini in London had been associated with different chapters in his life. His life was so oddly episodic. Waterloo had been his station for years as a teenager – down to Winchester. Then it had been Paddington for Oxford. Lately it had been King’s Cross for Hertfordshire and now Yorkshire. He was quivering with excitement. It was so wonderful to be in London. He had friends there and the city was full of possibilities. He walked and walked. His bag did not seem to weight anything. There was no Murphy to oppress and tyrannise him! Sean did not miss the stillness of the verdant valley. The bustle and traffic of this teeming city was music to him. There was life and colour. Each street was full of possibilities.
He made it his business to visit things he had not been into for years. He paid the hefty admissions price and entered Westminster Abbey. The mediaeval architecture appealed to him. The 19th century addition on Victoria Street did not irk him as it did many others. The addition of a Ugandan bishop’s face only made it more pertinent. He was pleased with himself for having examined the masonry closely enough to spot that one. He noted the four martlets around a cross as a motif – symbol of the Anglo Saxon kings and University College, Oxford. Amblefifth had a historic link to Westminster Abbey. The Benedictines were there until Henry VIII closed them down in the 1530s. They fled to France and set up their abbey at Dieulouard. From there these Benedictines returned to the British Isles in the late 18th century. Not that many Amblefifthians would know that. There were some who were very well clued up. Most were willfully ignorant and proud of it. It made his blood boil. For the price of educating one of these idle wasters 100 children in Nepal could be school. Some children craved education and did not get it. These ineducable cunts had education lavished on them and only scoffed at it. The waste and injustice was infuriating.
How delightful it was to look at all the stone handiwork – to even smell the stone. He felt the centuries with his hands and with his heart. It was a Valhalla. So many monarchs, prime ministers and poets lay within those walls. Sean studied the marble busts and their sulky faces. He was astonished to find the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots there. He was regaining his composure. As Sean toured the historic sights within the abbey he saw a small verger of exceptionally solemn bearing ambling past. What made the man hold himself so? Was it vanity?
Sean was elated to be away from a world of bells, of obsteperous and mouthy pupils, of futile form filling, of 100 emails a day and of Murphy.
He lodged with Kyrle. Sean shimmied up the stairs of this MArylebone flat. It was a relief not to be harangued by Murphy on a daily basis.
In London there were ravishing girls around. Could he score with one? He was enamoured of the notion of living in London but he reasoned he had better tough out his two year contract in the far north.
Sean wondered whether he should move into journalism? He had a raft of contacts to use. Getting a job hinged on knowing the right people. But would he make a living at it? It was an unlikely prospect. Fortunately, he knew the right people. Journalism had little accessibility for those who had not attended a top flight university. His education would be a passkey to a job even if not a decently remunerated one. He liked the way journalists were so scabrously broad minded. No one raised an eyebrow at profanity and drunkenness first thing in the morning. He had witnessed their behaviour in many disreputable pubs.
In London he was no longer in hostile country and that was what his school was. His cultured voice did not irk the locals. He no longer had to put up with Murphy’s ramblings. Being away from work calmed Sean. He was not been severely criticised every day. His ideas were not being dismissed as rubbish every day. Sean wondered what he was putting himself through all this for? A modest pension at the end? He remembered that teaching could be fun – with decent pupils. At the back of his mind there was a realisation that he would have to return. He had a job there and all his stuff was there. His quest in life was for something more. He could not abide the notion of doing an office job. It struck him as deathly. But could it be that bad? Perhaps be a civil servant. There incompetence was handsomely rewarded. He sighed that he would not be lambasted there on a daily basis. He was astounded that the school would promote dolts and keep able people down. They wasted the senior staff time. That trio had liaised on giving him a hard time instead of helping him by bollocking the disrupters. He would like to give a piece of his mind to the trio but that would not sit well with his wish to get a PGCE. Those bastards blindly refused to be reasonable. Where did this stem from? Perhaps sheer malice.
Sean switched off his alarm. He no longer needed to rise before sunup.
What kept him going at Amblefifth? There were a few decent people and he swapped experiences with them. They too had havoc in their lessons. None of them suffered from such unreasoning. directives from their head of department. Abel had noted the school suffered fools very gladly. Abel too shared his barely concealed contempt for the bureaucratic mindset.
Sean thought about Shilling. He had cool nerve and was capable. He could handle disparate matters with aplomb. He was happy their and did not have a predilection for any vice in excess. How did he cope? Sean wondered whether sympathetic sounding Shilling was a spy. He had enough info on Sean to deliver a knockout blow. But no – why would he do that? There was no gain for him in that. Sean was candid with himself. Amblefifth was a sorrowful experience. His problems there were largely insoluble. He would be doing very well to tough out two years there. He feared a precipitous decline into depression of his grief there continued next term.
Sean walked to Kyrle’s place. The dreary sky did not lower his spirits. He was away from some insufferable pupils. The unrelieved stress of teaching dim lower sixth was behind him. It was sublime to walk these streets in freedom. He passed an O’Neill’s of which he was a habitue. Ah sweet liberty! The ghastliness of Amblefifth was 200 miles away. He remembered a classic slave narrative by Mary Prince – to be free is very sweet.
Sean walked past St Pancras Church. He spotted some fungi growing in the garden. There was a slight dilapidation to the place. On Tavistock Square he ruminated on those killed in a terrorist bomb not long before. Life could be a lot worse for him. Life might not be at all.
Kyrle was a munificent host. He greeted Sean with a 12 pack of beer. They sipped beer in the drawing room as Kyrle watched cricket. Sean had not the slightest interest in this most English of sports. They chatted intermittently. Kyrle’s eyes were fastened to the screen. Sean did not wish to be too obtrusive in his conversation.
What is was to live in zone 1 of the tube. Sean was benevolently jealous of Kyrle. Maybe Sean had it all wrong. He ought to be in London no matter what. London was where it was at. Things happened there. He would be plugged into politics. He would not longer be missing out. His friends were either in London or Oxford. He might be hard up in London but there were chances to earn money there. Sean wondered – should he go back to Amblefifth at all in January? He could just slink out. All his stuff was there. Where would he put it? He had no savings. He needed that PGCE. Once he had that he would never be unemployed for a day.
Donny’s Scandinavian girlfriend put her head around the door. Her short bobbed hair was so blond it was luminous. Her face was encrimsoned by rouge though it was only noon. She saw who was there and then was gone. It had just been long enough for her face to acknowledge the effect of seeing one of Kyrle’s friend – a sour expression. Sean did not find this disconcerting. Being verbally abused and constantly demeaned by children was his daily lot. This sort of ill-mannered look was nothing to him.
The cadaverous Donny was not to be see thankfully.
The beer made Sean a little sluggish. He decided to go out for a walk. He strode all the way to Westminster Abbey. He visited it for the second time in his life. This time he was much more educated and scrutinised the tombs with the utmost fascination. It was a rare thrill to walk in such a pantheon. He recalled how Andrew Roberts had called it Valhalla. In the dim recesses of the cathedral he could imagine some phantasmagoric creature lurking. The neo Gothic entrance was seen as Victorian vandalism by some by Sean liked it.
In the evening the ebon haired Donny sat in the drawing room. He was stroking the fissures on the soles of his feet. There was no perceptible hostility from Donny to him. despite Donny and Kyrle being at daggers drawn. It was a matter of perplexity to Sean how the two managed to inhabit the same flat despite abominating each other.
Each of them approached the drawing room with trepidation lest the other be in there. A tension pervaded the place. The detestation between the two was such that to each the other seemed irredeemable. They were very constrained by their determination not to be in the same room at the same time.
Sean was unsure what Donny saw in his girlfriend besides a vagina. She was far from vivacious.
In the bathroom Sean noticed gossamer in the corner.
Benedict Black was as cordial as ever. There was something ennuye about this peripatetic music teacher. He reminisced about his schooling at St Benedict’s in Ealing.
”I remember we did monasticism for A level History – so only the most boring subject possible. We were all asked if we wanted to be monks even the blatantly unsuitable. Then there was this one monk who used to dry us as we came out of the shower. It was a tough rugby playing school so the idea that a hefty 17 year old needed a monk to rub a towel on his was daft. That was clearly how he got his cheap thrills the poofta. ”
Benedict plainly felt no abhorrence at this behaviour . A mild contempt that was all. Despite his age his faculties had not decayed.
Sean was surpassingly funny and regaled all with gags and accents.
Benedict was a musician beyond compare. They gathered around the piano in the piano room of an evening and he would play them any melody they requested.
Donny put his head around the door. He had finely moulded his hair into a pompadour. Sean detested those who cared so much about their hair.
Next day at breakfast Kyrle showed some agitation. ”Is something wrong Kyrle?” asked Sean.
”Yes, it is.”
”My brother has lost his job again and mummy shall be most upset. It will make for a frightful Christmas. Bastards go and do that a week before Christmas. They could have waited till afterwards – season of good will and all that. ”
”At least he will not spend too much on presents now.”
”Yes well one has to try to look on the bright side – only way to cope.”
”Did he enjoy it anyway?”
”He bloody detested it. As boring as buggery. Selling advertising space in some magazine.”
”Sounds inordinately crap.”
”It was and the money. An Old Etonian reduced the status of an office gimp!”
”Is Christmas all right apart from that?”
”No it is not. Trouble is I do not get along well with pater. The thing is we had totally different upbringings. He went to Harrow and Cambridge and I went to Eton and Oxford.”
Sean had to strangle a belly laugh. Only Kyrle could believe that Harrow and Cambridhe was the polar opposite to Harrow and Cambridge.
Then along came Tom Fenshaw. Fenshaw was an aspiring solicitor. He was a rangy 6’2” and had strawberry blond hair. Fenshaw was very likable but his once vice was a penchant for negrophobic jokes.
Sean went out under the leaden hued sky. He explored London like there was no tomorrow. He reckoned on spending 50 pounds on a day just walking around. He sought to cut costs by walking as much as possible. The sullen sky did not make him feel glum.
To cheer themselves up they went to a pub after dinner – the Prince Regent in Marylebone. He saw a silken haired girl there. He tried to chat up this nubile brunette but she gave Sean the brush off. They went outside so Tom could smoke. Despite the low grey clouds he was not at all downcast.
Tom was always smartly though never flashily dressed. He managed to score with very desirable women – always slim ones. When Kyrle went to the loo Sean asked
”Is Donny someone who could turn decent or is he an irreclaimable cunt?”
”The latter” Tom laughed – then gave his smoker;s cough.
”Nothing can be done to remedy the situation?”
”One of them could move out. It is a frozen conflict. But none of them will. It is because they are so bloody minded.”
Sean then told some lengthy jokes with a few characters in them. He modulated his voice to be the different characters.
Sean was soon three sheets in the wind. He considered calling his ex girlfriend in Germany. ”It is always better to call than not to call” said Fenshaw with a fag between his lips.
Sean was surprised that someone like Fenshaw would smoke knowing what malady he would get from it. He was not exactly hooked and only smoked when drinking. Sean did not smoke because he lived an unhealthy life in other ways with heavy drinking and eating all the wrong foods in abundance. He was not morbid so chose not to consider what he was doing to his body by stuffing in carbs and sugar with gay abandon.
”It is bewildering that Kyrle does not have a bird. he is all right looking, personable, got family money” said Tom
”I know but he is odd. Takes one to know one. I am an oddball too but he takes the biscuit.”
”Yeah he is peculiar but some chicks like that.”
”Maybe they cannot endure his stares.”
”Maybe not” said Tom.
Sean reflected on his own pitiable love life. Barbara had left him. Sometimes he felt equivocal about that. They had had terrible rows. Now he wanted someone – anyone. His physical needs impelled him to seek female flesh. She could be dim – just anyone. Why was he afflicted with singledom? Living in the middle of nowhere did not help. The sexual frustration in that village was palpable. Should he phone her? How would she react? She had a boyfriend now. She might slam the phone down. He could but try..
”It is always better to call than not to call” said Fenshaw pensively. He tried calling but she did not answer. He reckoned she had recognised his number and chosen not to pick up. They went to a Turkish takeaway and had some lamb to eat. Fenshaw was whistling a tune to himself. He seemed so together. He was rangy and handsome – he had no trouble scoring. ”I am useless at picking up randoms. Got to be someone I know.”
They went home and carried on boozzing till Sean lost consciousness.
Sean discovered that in his crapulous stupor he had vomited greasy wine stained lamb onto the carpet. Kyrle was not elated.
Next day Sean walked by the Tower of London. He looked at the turrets and thought what they had witnessed. A slight vapour rose from the Thames. It seemed a paradox that so ancient and edifice should stand by some gleaming ultra modern towers.
It was so good to leave the pestilent Murphy behind and the way he spoke in equivoques. He was so far from his importunate and pertinacious pupils. If Sean had his way he would remodel education. The deplorable notion that all are academic would have to go.
Sean was pleased that this annus horribilis was drawing to a close. He wished for better in the coming year. There had been many horrific things that had occurred in this year of disgrace. He had failed his Master’s degree – again – he had had a dreadful time in that school in southern England, Barbara had left him and he had met Murphy in Amblefifth. The one bright spot was that he had not spent a single day in his parent’s village down a godforsaken peninsula in Co Limerick.