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More News from the Chalk Face


More News from the Chalk Face - June 2013



Now that Monsignor Peter has gone to fulfil his mission elsewhere, I would like to thank Father Martin for allowing me to use the parish website for some more of my terrible stories and cartoons, even though they are not understood by many of you. And so, onto the story.



Yet another visit to the past


The summer holidays were drawing to a close, but I still had another few days before my next term. I got up late that Monday, showered and prepared my breakfast, you know, the Scots Porage Oats and a cup of tea, and went into my study to prepare some work.

 I heard the letterbox open and close and went to get the mail, only to be thwarted, yet again. There was the flyer from a gardening contractor lying on the carpet… in spite of my putting a notice on the door window expressing how grateful I would be if such things as flyers and junk mail, in general, would not be put through my letterbox. 

It`s not that I can blame foreigners who do the job, for their lack of understanding of English, or those who think the notice does not concern them, because a relief postman told me that such a notice did not apply to him, after sneaking in a pile of flyers from local chip shops, cobblers and the like. He referred to himself, and others, as he said,” I`m not just a flyer pusher, you know, I`m delivering serious mail.”

Moments later, however, the genuine post arrived, just as my attention turned to the Today Programme on Radio 4. Evan Davis had just introduced two economists, whom he was about to interview. He began,” Only this morning, I was thinking to myself, inside my own head….” I heard no more as I began to laugh uncontrollably at such a ridiculous comment from an experienced radio personality.

( Incidentally, I had heard Ronnie Corbett use that line on one of his programmes some time before that, but he knew what he was saying, as he finished it off with,” Could I think inside anyone else`s head?” Then he said,” I very rarely use my glasses, I don`t wish to wear out the lenses.” But this is by the by and only detracts from the story, to which I will quickly return, after the bracket.) 

One of the envelopes had a London postmark on it and I recognised the hand writing, the sender`s name and Farm Street address on the reverse.  It was from a Jesuit friend, with whom I had worked many years before. 

I sipped the tea and opened the white envelope. The letter was from a priest, whose flamboyant signature was at the bottom of the page: Dr Arthur Wellington Boote SJ. 

Arthur had written to invite me to spend a weekend at The Saint Borrell of Lemmo  School, with him and another priest friend, Father Isaac Spender-Penny SJ.( As usual, I hasten to add that both sets of parents had had a good sense of humour where names were concerned). The former had taught science whereas the latter was a history fanatic. 

After breakfast, I prepared myself for the event by packing my bags and then cleaned the car and did some gardening. 

Whilst cutting the grass, I recalled the comment of a friend who lives in a flat, nearby, who has since taken to do some gardening and thereby save money.  She hires a man she knows to, as she puts it, “Throw the lawnmower over the grass,” which is as good as the one which features in one of my cartoons, “His wife got him to run across the grass with the lawnmower.”

 Then, I rang up the Jesuit house in Farm Street, London, leaving a message that I would stay for the weekend in question with the receptionist, {which would have been a very undignified situation, given that she lived in a one-bedroomed flat in Twickenham, with her mother}.

I set out late on the Saturday morning in question, having prepared well for the trip. I remembered the words of a former pupil, who worked at a nearby service station, as a forecourt attendant.

 His comment greatly amused me. Before I had left the service station, one day, `Tadpole`saw me and came over. ”Did you fill up the car with petrol, Sir?” he asked, beaming greatly. Before I could reply, he continued,” Me Ma told me Dah to do it, Sir, an` he did, Sir.” He paused, allowing me some moments to think up some suitable remark.

 Then he said, with a laugh, ”Me Da goh soaked in petrol when he opened the driver`s door. He caused an incident involving the police and the Fire Brigade, at the petrol station.  All the forecourt was swamped with petrol. The entire street had to be evacuated. Me  Da goh nine months in Walton for endangering life and property.” {“The father must have been a member of the Literal Society which we met in another story,” I thought, as I drove on my way.}

I recalled that the father, Albert Birke, had also been on a local radio `phone- in show. The press had featured an article about cleaning kitchen sponges by putting them in the microwave oven for several seconds, on full power. He was full of himself as he spoke.” Roger,” he said, his voice craving approval, “I read that article in the paper an` I put my sponge in the microwave. It went on fire, Roger.”

 I could hear the silence, picturing Roger raising his eyes to heaven wondering what he was going to hear next. “Thanks for that,” said Roger, and continued by berating the press for suggesting such a thing to vulnerable people.

Apparently, I learned later, somebody at the council cleansing department had seen fit to allow the father access to one of the bin wagons, as a driver.

He had not checked to see if the man had actually passed his test, but one Saturday, he was seen speeding along side roads which were not suitable for large lorries going at more than twenty miles per hour.

 On the occasion in question, as a motorist reported, `Birke` rounded a corner, not in the correct speed or gear for such a corner, and pulled up sharply alongside a parked vehicle thereby blocking the road and causing an obstruction. The motorist, having seen the speeding bin wagon turn the corner, had stopped some way short of the parked vehicle to allow the bin wagon to pass. 

`Birke` proceeded to make gestures to the motorist who made no sense of them, but seeing that the bin wagon was not going to move, he got out of his car to see what he could do, to help the hapless `Birke` out of his problem.

`Birke` was belligerent when he got out of his cab, cheered on by his two companions, who had not seen any danger in the way he drove, and would probably do the same, themselves.

 They sat in the cab grinning as `Burke` said, ”Forget right of way. Use your noggin and move your car over there.” Surprising, coming from somebody who hadn`t a clue and hadn`t used` his` noggin. He had caused the problem and now expected this motorist to move out of the way to let him pass.

 “Why can`t you drive round, as I deliberately stopped here to give you enough room?” asked the motorist. A glimmer of intelligence appeared for a moment.  ” If I do that, I will have to go on the pavement and I will crack the flags,” he said. [The motorist said to me,” It`s a pity he did not think about that before he caused the problem. But, then, was he able to do that?”]

Experience and maturity came to the fore, here, and the motorist moved his car, and the situation was over. I could just see the headline in the local paper: “ A Birke causes obstruction in road”.

I mentioned this because I was hoping not to meet such a situation, myself. The rest of the journey was uneventful, with several tailgaters, people cutting in, in front, and others pulling out of side roads just feet ahead. I did wonder how many had had any lessons and how many had actually passed their test and were insured.

 [You have all seen these people. They arrive at the junction, pause, look at the car as it approaches then pull out, causing the approaching vehicle to slow down, even if it is being followed by a tailgater. The bottom one per cent. I often wondered if all this is ever explained by driving instructors until I saw one behaving in the same manner.]



Saint Borrell of Lemmo`s School


 I arrived at my destination, somewhere in Derbyshire, in the early evening and drove up the winding driveway to the school. The car park was not too full and so I parked near the main entrance.

Inside, I went to reception. A colourfully dressed twenty something with red hair was sitting behind a desk, a box of cream cakes at her left elbow, and a mug of hot chocolate next to her right one. A portion of the varnished desk was covered in those rings caused by hot mugs. She was staring into a computer monitor, and my arrival caused not one look of interest. I tapped on the closed window, and she looked up, reaching to open it.

“ Yeah?” she asked.

“I`ve come to see Doctor Wellington Boote,” I replied. 

“Don`t know nuffin about that,” she said.” I`m only a cleaner. You`ll want Mrs Whyte. Try that office along the corridor.” The window was closed before I could thank her, and yet another cake was entering her mouth before I had taken one step.




Moments later, I was at the office, the words `Mrs Pearl E Whyte` in black lettering, standing out against the yellow paint. Next to the door was another sliding window, behind which I could see a more mature woman. 

Before I could speak she had opened the window. “If I`m right, and I invariably am, you are a book salesman, by the name of Gil Moore, and you work for a firm called ZamZamm, Educational Books?” raising her voice in that Australian way as she came to the end of her question. “We have been expecting you. If you would like to take a seat, Father Obinole Jesulu, will be with you in a few minutes.”

The window was shut before I could reply. This time I knocked hard on the window, and as the woman opened it she said, ”Were my instructions too hard to understand or do you just want the gents?” She flickered her eye lids in my direction. I understood that she had a low opinion of book salesmen, especially if they came from the firm of ZamZamm.

“This time, you are wrong, Madam,” I said,” because I am a guest of Doctor Wellington Boote.”

“Oh, I`m terribly sorry,” she said, her attitude changing completely. “I will just call him. He`s in a room, along the corridor.” Instead of using the `phone, she got up came out into the passageway and did indeed call, in a loud voice, “Doctor Wellington Boote, Doctor Wellington Boote…. Visitor for yew!”  I had heard this sound of the word `you` when I had been in Twickenham, many years before.[This is by way of nothing in particular. I thought it would break the monotony.]

The Doctor emerged from a doorway, a few yards away. [No apologies to those who were brought up on metric. I recall an incident recently which happened in Southport, on the Promenade.

 An elderly couple was sitting in one of those little shelters, avoiding the wind; not every day is sunny, there, when two unfit police officers caught up with a hoodie and accused him of possessing lysergic acid diethylamide. 

The first officer, a portly bloke who did little exercise, said,” We have reason to believe,[gasp] that you have on your person [gasp] a quantity of LSD.” 

Before the youth could reply, the old woman called over, ”Awe, go easy on the young man, officer. We used to use LSD on a daily basis up to about 1970…. We used to buy all sorts of things with it, and I bet your grandparents did too: until they brought in decimal currency.” Let us return to the story.]



Arthur and Isaac

Moments later, I heard the confident footsteps of my friend as he emerged from the Library and came along the corridor. “John, my boy,” said the large, balding man as he approached, smiling, arm outstretched, ready to shake my hand.” It`s been how long?” 

“Your arm or since I last saw you?” I asked with a grin.

“Still the same humour,” he replied, smiling.” I must admit I miss it. I`ve never met anyone whose humour matches yours. Come with me. We will get your bags later. Isaac is in the staff common room. Let`s go and meet him.”

“Pearl wasn`t exactly helpful,” I said.

“Neither was her mother, when she used to work here….especially after one of the priests began referring to her as `Nacre`. 


Coffee in the Common Room


The staff room was a grandiose affair. They knew how to build in those far off days. It had a high ceiling and wood-panelled walls, the windows having shutters and bright yellow curtains. Nothing had changed since I had taught there all those years before, except for the few pictures which decorated some spaces on the walls.

 The area away from the window was covered by three tables, which the staff used for marking, and some chairs,{I won`t tell you what they are used for] while the area near the window, in the bay, contained several easy chairs and coffee tables.

 The view of the playing fields and surrounding countryside was spectacular. [Incidentally, I heard recently, that this view had been ruined by the erection of a wind-farm].

Father Isaac was standing near the window, perusing a page of the Daily Telegraph. On the table stood two empty coffee mugs. I remembered his fondness for the beverage and the boys` benign epithet for him: Le Pere Colator.

 He turned to greet me. Isaac was smaller than Arthur and had a much thicker head of hair. [ I am glad I wrote in the last two words in the previous sentence, or you would have gained the wrong impression of the gentleman.] As we shook hands he said, ”Good to see you again, John. Can`t wait to hear what you have been up to. Let`s go into the refectory.”


Captain AlgernonSJ


After supper, we ambled around the school, as if on a grand tour, looking at the many changes made over the years, and at the long school photos, adorning many of the walls. I stopped at one photo, in particular, and pointing at one of the figures, said,” Isn`t that old…?”

“Captain Algernon SJ?” interjected Isaac. ”Yes, something of a cadet force fanatic I remember. I heard that he used to hold courts martial in his room, next to the dormitory he was responsible for. Used the ceremonial sword, brother officers, the whole thing.”

“ I remember all that, now,” I said.” A boy, back then, told me that Algernon would have fire drill in the middle of the night, getting all the boys in his dorm to parade outside the building, in all weathers, in pyjamas, while he called the register, and if they would not settle down afterwards and go to sleep, he would order them all to write out French verbs for about an hour, until they were ready to settle down.”  

“I`m afraid that sort of behaviour would not go down too well with the parents, nowadays,” said Arthur. “Indeed, I am quite sure they would put in for compensation or demand a year of free tuition.”


Remembering Old Boys


We arrived back at the common room, where we spent the hour before the `silence` in conversation.[ In Jesuit houses, and in those of other orders, the resident priests and others are expected to be quiet after a certain hour until the next morning.] While my friends and I shared a bottle of sherry, we discussed items of interest from the newspapers.

“My goodness me,” said Isaac, at one point. ”Here`s an item about one of our former pupils, in one of the local papers. It`s in `A life`s like that` section. He was here in the late seventies. I remember him well.”

“Let`s see if I remember him. What was his name?” asked Arthur.

“Manakin. Simon Manakin,” answered Isaac.” Nothing to do with cigars, by the way, as the boys thought. It`s the name of a bird,” he said, pausing for thought. “He was a decent sort of chap. Always there to help others.” 

He continued,” When he left, he went up to university to read English. I don`t know why. He read pretty little of it while he was here. His head was always full of fanciful ideas about what he would do in life.

 It says here that he became a journalist on a little-known local newspaper and that he was always looking for the scoop that would make him famous. 

Dissatisfied with being just a hack, seemingly going nowhere, recently, he took a job selling ice-cream from a van, so that he could gain more experience of life. His boss there told him he could have as many scoops as he could manage. 

Then, still unsatisfied, he took a job as a dog warden even designing a scoop for dog walkers, but to no avail. Now, and still looking for the big scoop of his life he has ended up with JCB. It goes on to say that his long suffering girlfriend tried to get him to tie the knot and when he refused to be bulldozed into marriage she quickly dumped him, in the biggest scoop JCB could find for him.”


“So, it would seem that he got what he wanted, in the end,” said Arthur. “While you were explaining that, oh, do forgive us, old man, “he said, turning to me,” we often examine the papers and analyse the articles. We`ve been doing it since we met in the seminary.” 

Then, Arthur turned again to Isaac and said,” I have found an article about another old boy. He, too, has changed career several times, and has just won an award for his sponsorship of a college for underprivileged children, in Africa. 

This one is about a man called Strelle. Do you remember him, Isaac? He must have been here in the seventies. A good all -rounder at games, was young Philip Peter, playing rugger and cricket in the sixth form, and the same at university. 

He did well in science, by the look of it. Anyway, the report goes on to say that having taught science, for many years, as a career break he went to work for the Post Office, and played cricket for them, doing well in all aspects of the game. 

Apparently, he then left, and another career change saw him become a midwife. It seems he was keen to keep on delivering. Philip tells us that his Post Office Line Manager had written in his CV that he would make an excellent midwife, being well known for his home delivery, while he worked for them, and for scoring several centuries for the Post Office side.” 

“I always said that P.P.Strelle was a good bat,” said Isaac, quick off the mark as ever, and never one to be accused of a slow delivery, himself. With that, we stood and went on our way, keen to observe the tradition of the Society, namely the grand silence.

The following morning we met in the dining room, after Mass, and had breakfast. Some of the other clergy came in. I remembered one or two of them and they remembered me. The first was a large, well- kept man, by the name of Angus Porterhouse-Blue, whose rather unpleasant nickname was a reference to a cut of beef. The other was Father Willie Widgeon, who had started losing his hair when he was about twenty. His nickname was `Bald Eagle`. They didn`t stay long as they had plenty to do.

 Isaac and Arthur brought their coffee with them and we chatted in the common room, again reading through the newspapers and making the odd remark about various items.


Amusing experiences


You must tell us if you have had any amusing experiences in your career,” ventured Arthur. “Did anything here amuse you?”

“There were a few incidents,” I replied. “I believe the funniest was when some of the sixth form raided the laundry, stole the Head`s long johns and hoisted them up the flag pole. 

They flew full mast for many hours before anyone in authority saw them and put an end to the affair. But too late, of course as the damage had been done, and the Head had achieved a new nickname.”

“That name did the rounds of the Province, of course,” said Isaac with a smile.” I would have found it pretty hard to wear. Do you remember it, Arthur?”

“I am not sure that I do,” he replied. “It`s like one of those words you think you know when doing a crossword but it stays just over the horizon.”

“I will remind you of it before I leave,” I said, as Isaac winked in my direction. I got up to fill my cup with some more coffee. “I want to take you both out to lunch,” I said. 

They were both eager to eat out and mentioned some good eating places, which suggested to me that they managed to get out more often than I had thought. We planned to go around midday and got on with our reminiscences.

As the three of us strolled over the freshly cut playing fields, before leaving for lunch, Isaac said, ”I dare say you have come across some pretty awkward people, as have we.” 

“Yes, of course I have, and they have not all been pretty. I said. ” I bet you have met some quite ugly customers, yourselves.”





Isaac began to tell us of one which stuck out in the mind. “Some years ago, I was sent to one of our parishes, as assistant priest. I had been there for a couple of months and had become used to the routine of parish life, making new friends and the occasional enemy, whom, I hasten to add, I forgave continually. 

Some of the parishioners, after the noon mass on Tuesdays, would stay behind, to have a chat and `a cup of tea`, sometimes when I was present and especially when I was not. 

People from other parishes became frequent visitors, and some parishioners appeared when they were on the rota for extra duties such as watering the flowers, or changing the linen on the altar.

One of these women, whom I had not seen before, or since, whom I shall call `Margo,` appeared one Tuesday, as another women told me, quite unannounced, and after the mass proceeded to the meeting room, where there was a small kitchen.

 Now, one of the men from another parish, whom I shall call Job, for reasons which will become obvious, who was not aware of this woman`s short temper, happened to enter the meeting room, in search of the usual cup of tea, as he had travelled a good distance to get to the church.

Isaac paused as he blew his nose. He was one of hay fever`s victims.

 He continued, “As I was told later, Job, on entering the meeting room, heard the noise of water running from one of the taps and supposed, quite rightly, that the woman whom he had seen in there, filling the kettle was about to make the tea. 

He asked, to be sure that this was the case, “Are you about to make the tea?” The reply was not the expected one.

 ”No, I am not making the tea!” Margo almost screamed at him, and so he walked away as Norma, who usually made the tea, approached. From the small kitchen, came Margo`s voice, shouting and almost spitting out the words, ”What I am doing in this kitchen is none of your business!” 

Moments later, Margo emerged from the kitchen pushing a trolley, laden with kettles, pots and jugs full of water, which slopped out of the vessels and across the floor. 

Job went to help Norma, and had returned to the hatch, having just put the crockery and biscuits on the table, when Margo returned, obviously in a very bad tempered mood, and making as much noise as possible with the trolley and empty jugs, to announce her presence. 

She deliberately went behind Job and rasped, bitterly and in a loud voice, ”Excuse me! Excuse me! I am trying to put these jugs on the counter!” as she almost pushed him out of the way.

Job was persuaded not to leave by one of the other ladies who usually helped with the tea, saying,” Why should you leave on account of her bad manners?”

 Apparently, Margo sat at the table with the others, fuming and looking more sour faced than usual, her faded blond wig askew, and commented that all her watering of the plants and flowers was a waste of time, and that she did not know why she bothered to do it at all.

“Could you not offer it up?” asked Norma, trying to help. She was greeted with a litany of objections followed by a stony silence, while the others talked, making no reference to Margo`s unwarranted outbursts. 

When all this was reported to me, I simply remarked that she should be referred to as “Tantrum Margo,” using the first words of a well-known hymn, and the nickname stuck.”

“What a good pun,” said Arthur, smiling. “You must tell me the name of the parish so that I can avoid it.”

As we strolled back across the meadow, and passed the cricket pavilion, I said that I had encountered many awkward people in my profession and began to relate a story concerning the most irritable and irascible woman whom I had ever had the misfortune to meet, at one of the schools where I had worked.

“Margaret  Sourberry”


And so, I began. “I had started at a city centre boys` school, Saint Pendal of Parbold, some way into the September term, in the late eighties. 

The school had some very interesting pupils and staff. As a new teacher, I was always wary of the boys and of some of the remarks they could make. A number of the pupils were very bright and were old hands at the game of outsmarting teachers. Some, they took a shine to whereas with others, it was a non-stop war of attrition.

After a brief staff meeting, in which the Head, James Arthur Charles King, whose nickname was not `Jack`, by the way, welcomed newcomers, I made my way to Assembly. Then, I went to my first registration session, as the form teacher was away, ill. 

I stood at the classroom door, waiting to welcome the boys, who were all new to Year Ten. They arrived in their black blazers, black trousers, shirts and ties, all carrying sports bags. They stood, mostly in silence, muttering, “Old Smiley`s not here,” ( I found out that he always had a deadpan demeanour and found nothing amusing) or, “This must be the new bloke, let`s have some fun.” 

Once in the room, they settled down and we got on with the register, which they allowed me to do fairly quickly. I wondered why this was so, but having been around for a while, I realised there was something in the air. 

I looked at the clock, which was on the back wall of the room and saw that we had several minutes to spare. Just then, a lanky, blond haired woman teacher arrived in the room next door. 

She was much older than I, and by the comments made by some of the boys, it would have been better for all if she had not been there at all. “That`s Miss Sourberry, Sir,” said one.” We call her `Madge`. ”We have her for first lesson, Sir.”

“Could a person have such a name as `Sourberry?” I wondered. I found out later that she lived up to that name and her equally good, real one, Hettie Grouse, in many ways, when we met in the staffroom.

The two adjacent rooms were built such that the intervening `wall` had windows on the top half and wooden panelling on the lower, and so people in either room could easily be seen.




Suddenly, one of the boys raised his hand, seeing his opportunity, and as all the boys turned towards him, as if it were some prearranged activity, he said, with an ingratiating smile,” Sir, sir, pardon me for interrupting, but…. do you believe in aliens?”

 Instead of barracking him, they all turned back to me, waiting for my reaction, some looking at their watches, to see how much time there was before their first lesson.

I had to think quickly. This was obviously a try-on, to see how I would react, and I had to either dismiss his question or outwit him, somehow. Experience came to the fore. The lad had in front of him a book which bore the title, ”The Truth about the Secret Alien Invasion”, and this gave me my cue.

“Now, let me see,” I said standing, while stroking my beard. Regardless of the consequences, I continued, “Yes. I do believe in aliens, and seeing the book on your desk, I dare say that you have been making a study of aliens, as well.”

 I paused, while some of the boys gasped, unsure what to believe, for here was a figure of authority proclaiming what they all wanted to hear. 

 “In fact, I know a few of them personally. Some live not far from my house, but I will not tell you where that is, in case you go there and cause trouble for them.”

The first questioner raised his hand again. Before he could speak, I asked his name. “It`s Colin Crane, Sir,” he replied. {“So,” I thought, two bird names in one.”}  

“Well, Colin, what`s your question? Be quick, because we do not have much time.”

“You say you know some aliens, Sir. Do they speak our language, or do they use universal communication devices or do they have translators? And what do they look like?” “Do the authorities know about them?” asked another.

“Yes, the authorities do know about them,” I replied, and continued, “I will try, in the short time left, to answer your questions. 

No, they don`t use translating devices, because they learned to speak English where they used to live and they continue to study in schools in this country. They are not small, large eyed grey creatures, as you were going to suggest. In fact, they look just like we do. 

The adults drive cars and go to work. And I even know where some of them come from.” I was in the middle of the sentence telling them what they wanted to know, when my words, “They come here from Europe or Africa”, were drowned out by the bell, summoning them to their first lesson.

The boys left the room in orderly fashion, and lined up outside next door, still quiet and in a straight line. As I had no lesson, myself, I stayed put to do some preparation, and as it turned out, to learn a lot more about Madge.”



Encounter at Ravenscroft Hall


My companions were now hooked on my story and I could tell they were thirsty for more. They had to wait, however, as I needed their directions to get us all to the Ravenscroft Hall, which sold good luncheons at a reasonable price. Arthur `phoned and booked a table.

 After a two mile drive, I parked in a space near the entrance of this former stately home, hoping that the crows would not ruin my paintwork with their droppings, and glad that we had arrived before the crowds, for which the place was well known.  A waiter ushered us to our table, next to one of the windows, which gave us a good view of the countryside. 

The dining room had few guests, and at a table nearby sat a plump, lonely figure, her blond hair having seen better days. Her ruddy face suggested that she was very upset.

 We had walked in on what seemed to have been a heated argument. She was waiting for her second course to be brought to her table. A young, cheerful waitress brought it. ”Here you are, Madam, a nice piece of cod, and no mistake. Enjoy!” she said as she placed it on the table and moved away.

 Immediately, a black uniformed, moustachioed waiter, bearing a tray of condiments, arrived at her table, and bent down in front of her. He held the tray very close to the guest`s meal and asked, in a suave Leslie Philips voice, but with a tinge of mock French accent, an impudent grin distorting his face,” Could I offer you a leetle sauce, Madam?” 

“How dare you!” reacted the woman, causing the waiter to recoil in amazement. “How dare you!” she repeated. “I have just received five minutes of sauce from that other waiter. The one over there,” she said as she pointed, stabbing the air.

 “I must apologise for `is behaviour, Madam,” the waiter replied. “This `as been `is last chance, and now I must have words with `im. May I apologise from the bottom of my `art. You will not need to pay for your meal.” 

He left the tray on her table and went into the kitchen. Moments later, the red faced, offending waiter was seen leaving the building, and calm was restored. 

While we were reading the menu and taking our time deciding what to eat, the waitress returned with our drinks, keen to take our order. She wrote down what we wanted and left the scene. Before the waitress could return, we noticed that the woman had finished her meal, and was taking her time enjoying her coffee. 

Finally, she got up, lifting her handbag from the table, and walked towards us.  “She winked at Arthur as she said,” That`s not the first free meal I`ve had from a restaurant.”

 As soon as she had left, I said, spluttering, “That woman, that woman, reminded me very much of Madge. Her bad temper, I mean. Not the comment as she left. You will find out more as her story unfolds,” I promised. 

After the excellent meal, we toured the premises. The waiter whom we thought had been sacked was in one of the corridors, a cup of tea in hand. “We thought you had been sacked,” said Isaac. 

“Not at all,” replied the waiter, smiling. “The head waiter and me often do that routine to amuse ourselves. We don`t get many who object, and when they do, he pretends to sack me. They don`t usually come back.”  My friends and I smiled, knowingly, at each other. ”I suppose the Boss will take the money for the meal out of the waiters` pockets,” said Isaac. ”I know I would.”




We returned to the college having walked off our lunch, just in time for tea, which consisted of very thin paste sandwiches, slices of Genoa cake, and as much tea, or coffee as one could manage.

 We helped ourselves to the strawberry trifle which was brought in as an afterthought. Arthur said, smiling,” This trifle reminds me of an amusing incident which happened at one of the churches where I was stationed.

 I was at the back of the church, having just said Mass, when the next Mass was about to start. Just as Father Goodenough, a rather portly priest, had said,” Today, we celebrate the thirty-third Sunday of ordinary time, one of the old dears in front of me turned to her equally old companion, and said, ”Did you hear that Gladys? 

It`s not surprising that Father is so fat, and has diabetes if he has eaten so many sundaes in one year!”

My companions were eager to hear the rest of my exploits, and so I was keen not disappoint them.


As we walked in the grounds, enjoying the evening sunshine, Arthur said,” Those young men playing cricket, have returned early from their vacation. Let`s go and watch.”




Isaac pointed out the lad who was about to whack the ball across into the woodland. “That`s young Simon Baston; his father is something big in the city.”  “Not as big as Father Goodenough, though,” I said, just as the bowler released the ball.

Simon leaned forward to play the ball, but from where we were standing it seemed as if he had missed it. Almost immediately, the wicketkeeper grabbed the ball, and called, ”Out!”  Simon turned to him at once, complaining, “How do you make that out? My bat never touched it.” 

“Yes, it did. The ball just clipped the edge, Baston,” said the wicketkeeper pompously. One of the boys called time and they collected their gear and made their way inside. 





As they were leaving, I recalled another cricketing incident when I was umpiring a cricket match in one of the schools. It was a place of learning where my cartoons had come to the fore. Some pupils welcomed them, some couldn`t care less and some just did not understand them. 

One of these was Mark Fowl. He was at the crease and had just hit the ball into the wasteland adjacent to the sports field. It was owned by a man who hated children. 

He happened to be there, that afternoon and would not allow any boys to retrieve the ball. While they were arguing, I began to mention to Mark that I had just drawn a new cartoon, one that even he would understand.

Without realising that he was standing outside the crease, he turned to me and said, ”Sir, your cartoons always stump me.” He didn`t hear the others excitedly calling that the ball had been recovered and was almost in the hands of the wicket keeper. “And I have stumped you, as well,” said the latter, beaming, holding the ball in his hand as he knocked the bails off the wicket.    



Laurence Stone


“ Isn`t  it amazing how one incident leads to another?” said Arthur.  “Several years ago, we had another sports all-rounder here. I remember his name was Laurence Stone. Tall chap, admired by many and went up to Oxford. Anyway, he was fielding, that day. We were playing a Benedictine first eleven, and at the moment in question, it was clear that the match would end in a draw. 

The Lord showed that he favoured the Jesuits, that day. The Benedictine batsman hit the ball high and Laurence sprinted to retrieve it, which he did. As the young man picked it up, I heard Father Claver, the Head, in one of those rare moments of inspiration say very calmly,” Gentlemen, we are within a Stone`s throw of victory.”  



The cooking lesson


“Back to the next instalment of Madge, then, Old Fellow,” said Arthur, in order to stop a slew of more cricket jokes. “Well,” I continued,” you remember how I had just taken registration, and had decided to remain in the room doing some preparation, while Madge took her first lesson?                                                       

“Yes,” they both said, together. We are all ears.

Madge called out the names of the boys in the group, and as there were two missing, she asked if anyone knew where they were. The boys shrugged their shoulders, eager to get on with their domestic science. “Were James Peacock and Bernard Eagle at registration?” she asked, and all replied,  

”No, Miss.” She started to rummage through her notes and said ,”I told some of you to bring items to cook. Put up your hands those who brought something.” She beckoned to them to step up to the table, and told them to place their items on it.

“Well, what`s in that plastic bag, you are holding, Phoenix?” she said harshly.” Is it a piece of fruit? A raspberry, perhaps? That`s not going to stave off your hunger at lunch time, now is it?” The class had only been going a few minutes and already she was beginning to become anxious and cross. 

Phoenix said,” But, Miss, it`s my Uncle Ben`s boil in the bag…. It was advertised on the telly.” Some of the group sniggered, adding to her annoyance.

“How dare you! Madge rasped.” Go back to your place.” As he obeyed, another boy stepped forward. He held up another plastic bag, which contained a small, fleshy coloured item. ”I`ve got Saint John`s wart ,Miss,” he said, sheepishly.” 

“I suppose you think you are being funny, Hornbill,” she shouted at the boy. “Oh, no, Miss,” he replied, as he sat down, “you told us last week that St John`s Wort was used in cooking.”

“You are right,” she retorted. “But not an actual wart off somebody`s finger!” As soon as Madge turned to clean the white board, Phoenix and Hornbill delivered several high fives to their pals. Then, Madge told the boys to open their text books and get on with the questions which she wrote on the board, telling the group, “We will cook something later, in the second period, when you have settled down.”


The Wasp


Once the second period started, she told some of the boys to take out various pots and pans, and others to peel the potatoes which she had placed on her table. Some minutes later, the potatoes were cheerfully cooking on the hobs, the boys taking care that they should not boil over. Meanwhile, Madge was on the prowl, wandering around the class, watching what each boy was up to.

A nasty looking wasp flew in, through the open window, and took its time to settle. Finally, encouraged by the fumes from one of the pans it alighted on the plastic handle and stayed put. 

Henn saw his opportunity, took a straw and started to poke the wasp. He could see that it was already angry. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Madge was behind the boy, poking him angrily on the shoulder.” What are you doing, Henn?” she shouted, causing everyone to turn in their direction.

With a smirk he replied, “I`m trying to get you both to fly off the handle.” 

At that moment, the wasp obliged, took to the air, and headed toward Madge`s table only to land on a small strawberry flan, which she had planned to eat later on.

She was there before anyone could move, and swatted the offending wasp with an exercise book, so hard that there was nothing left of it or the flan. Just then, to make matters worse, Phoenix and Peacock arrived, and were creeping to their places when Madge chanced to see them. Before they could sit, Madge shouted, right hand on hip,” And where do you think you have been until NOW?” 


A River Walk


The pair stopped in their tracks, all eyes on them. Some of the boys turned down the gas in order to hear what was going to be a really good row. You will remember what I said at the beginning about a war of attrition? Well, here was yet another battle. Phoenix and Peacock placed their sports bags on the floor. Peacock said, ”I`ll go first,” and turned to face Madge`s wrath. “Well,” she domineered, ”I am waiting.” 

“We are sorry for being late, Miss. We had to finish some Geography work and we were walking along the river bottom.”

“And the river banks, Miss,” chipped in Phoenix. “Look, Miss, our shoes and trouser bottoms are still wet.”

“Madge stood there, silent, looking them up and down. Then, in a voice which started off quietly and rose to a crescendo, she said, ”What kind of a fool do you think I am? As she rushed over to her cupboard she called out,” I have lived in this area since before your parents were born, and I know there are no such places as the River Bottom and the River Banks!” 


The Atlas


She pulled a large school atlas from the cupboard, displacing the books which surrounded it, causing them to fall onto the floor. Having opened the atlas, she put it on the table, pointed to it and defied them to point out the offending rivers.

“But, Miss, we didn`t say they were local rivers, said Phoenix.” All we said was that we were walking along their bottoms and banks, Miss.” Fortunately for these two and the class, the bell rang. The boys turned off the cookers, gathered their things and left, leaving the cantankerous woman to her own thoughts. I kept well clear of her and went to the common room for lunch.



 Madge and one of her cronies, known as Fullomena by the boys and girls  in the sixth form, because of her appetite, went out for lunch and a visit to the hairdressers. Fullomena was a well-built woman, employed as a PE teacher for the girls in the sixth form, and to teach hockey to the boys. She was still in her grey, baggy track suit, as she left the premises accompanied Madge. 

The Salon


Even there, Madge was to find no peace, as I found out later from another member of staff, who had been in the same salon, but unknown to Madge. Once in the salon, the hairdressers set about their business with great alacrity, and the teachers were soon under the hairdryers.

Fullomena had brought a daily tabloid and Madge asked one of the assistants for a book to read. Unfortunately, she gave her the nearest one to hand, `How to Win Friends and Influence People` by Dale Carnegie.

“Bah!” shouted Madge as she read the title. “How dare you!” she shouted, as she flung the book across the salon, knocking over her dryer and displacing some of the bottles and jars in front of the mirrors.” Edna, the owner, intervened saying,” I think you had better leave, Mrs Grouse. You have caused enough damage. And when you have paid, we will not expect to see you in here again. Goodbye.”


The end of an era


From what I learned later, the afternoon was no better for Madge. She arrived, rather dishevelled, at her room and organised some coffee to calm herself down.

Now, when I say organised some coffee, that is what I mean. She took several brands from her special cupboard and placed the jars in rows on the table. Then she rearranged the jars into a different order, several times, before she was satisfied. Finally, she argued with herself over which of the two she had selected should be consumed. 

However, before she could actually make the coffee, the first bell rang, and she blustered about the room getting things ready for her lesson. Madge had just managed to pour the boiling water onto her choice when she heard the boys come into the building from the yard, and go to their rooms for afternoon registration. 

The second bell signalled that the next class would soon be there. Just as she was finishing the coffee the noisy bunch of teenagers arrived in the corridor. The sounds of boys urging their classmates to be quiet, so as to avoid detention, could be heard, and as she appeared at the door, silence fell in the corridor. “Unusually, I am not in a good mood,” she said in her menacing tone.” “So, if you wish to do some cooking, I warn you, you had better be on your best behaviour.” On her command, the boys filed in without a word.




Madge began with a quick roll call as per school procedure. On occasion, this paid off, as it did this time. There was one missing.” Where is Gosling?” she asked quietly. As there was no response, she asked again.” We think he is with Mr Peck, Miss,” said Swan, one of the more amenable boys.

 She returned to her desk in front of the white board, and said,” You were supposed to bring some food items to cook this afternoon. Go and take them from the fridge or the larder, and bring them to the table. The boys lined up obediently and within minutes all paraded with their items. One boy, Nightjar, had brought some crab apples while another had brought some fish.

Madge ignored the apples and asked Finch what sort of fish he had just placed on her table.” 

It`s an old trout, Miss,” he mumbled, feigning embarrassment. Noticing this, Madge said,” We can`t hear you, Finch, would you care to repeat that in a much clearer voice, so that we `can` all hear you?” Finch tried again, and called out loudly, “It`s an old trout, Miss,” to the laughter of his friends. 

“And why did you bring such an article?” asked Madge, who had never learned and had risen again to the bait. “Because I thought it would be appropriate, Miss.” 

Now Madge and the boy both understood the implications of what was being said, but before she could do anything about it, in walked Gosling, large as life and smirking.  

“Yo, lads,” the tall youth said, high fiving several of the nearest boys. Madge was quick to intervene. “And where have you been until this time?” she asked, holding back the anger which was starting to consume her. 

“I have been with Mister Peregrine, Miss. We have been studying nudes, Miss. We have been in his classroom, studying nudes,” he repeated, placing the emphasis on his last word. He stood there grinning widely, displaying the braces on his teeth as he received the acclaim of his mates. 

Instead of ignoring the teenager`s comments and resuming her lesson, she became angrier. “How dare you come into my room in that way, disrupting my lesson with your behaviour and comments! Where is Mister Peregrine, now?” she demanded. 

Her wrath turned on Mr Peregrine. “How dare a grown man take advantage of an impressionable youth and show him nudes! And in the classroom! In school!”


Mr Peregrine


The events of the week had turned Madge into a time bomb, and she was ready to go off. She did what no teacher should do. She left the classroom rather than approach Mr Peregrine later, and stormed off along the corridor to confront him. The boys rushed to the door and waited there in a huddled mass to hear the action as it unfolded.

Madge burst into the classroom, empty of people except for the unfortunate Mister Peregrine, and harangued him. “How dare you show an impressionable  boy pictures of nudes!” she rasped.” I suppose you have hidden your copies of Playboy and others in your briefcase,” she rasped. ”I am going straight away to see the Head to report your actions.”

Mr Peregrine tried to explain his actions, but to no avail. “Of course we were talking about nudes and looking at them,” he said, but Madge, not listening, was on her way to the Head.

 Peregrine got up to follow, calling after Madge, “But Missus Grouse, you have got the wrong end of the stick. I am trying to explain.” By now, classroom doors had been opened, and teachers were looking out trying to find out what all the noise was about. “The nudes Gosling was telling you about is a legal term,” said Peregrine, but Madge would not listen. 

 Gosling had followed the pair as they made their way to the Head`s office and called after Madge, ”I am sorry for before, Miss, but what I was trying to tell you is true. We were looking at nudes. The word is a legal….,” his voice trailing off as Madge entered the Head`s outer office and rapped on his door.

Both Gosling and Mr Peregrine waited in the outer office, the secretary staring at them both in amazement, totally silent, as Madge could be heard talking loudly to the Head. He was trying to calm her down and as he was closing the door said,”I will see you later. Go and look after Mrs Grouse`s class for now.”

 “Now, what is the problem, Missus Grouse?” asked the Head. “Your bursting into my office like this will never do,” he said in a quiet and reassuring voice, allowing Madge to regain her composure.

 ”You were saying that Gosling arrived late and said that he and Mister Peregrine were looking at nudes, and that he said it in such a way that you lost control of the class. Well, he probably was talking to Gosling about nudes, and I can see where the difficulty lies.

 I have hired Mister Gosling to teach Law as a GCSE Option, and one of the topics is indeed `nudes.` You see, when I decided to include Law, I read the syllabus, and discovered the word, `Nudes`. I knew that it could cause some hilarity, but I never for the life of me thought it could end up like this.” 

The Head stood and took a copy of the syllabus from a filing cabinet. He flipped through it stopping at the appropriate page. ”Here you are he said,” read this.

    “Nudes,” began Madge. “A nude means lacking some essential legal requirement concerning a contract made without consideration and void unless under seal.” She stopped, looking shaken and embarrassed. “I don`t know what to say,” she said, her voice trembling.


The End


“There`s no need to worry about that, Missus Grouse.  For now, I suggest you go home early, take a few days` sick leave, and then come in and see me. From all the reports I am receiving, about your relationships with both the pupils and staff, you seem to be “flying off the handle” so to speak, far too often. When we meet, I think we should give the idea of early retirement more than some thought. I will have all the necessary documents to hand.”Madge left the building. ”I am a teacher,” she muttered out loud. ”I will always be a teacher.”


Apparently, a few days later, Madge`s husband, Wilfred, was in a pub and he told a friend, ”Now that the Missus is retired, either she or me will need to get back to work, or it will be blue murder at home.”



The Last Supper


“What an interesting story!” said Isaac, seconded by Arthur. We all stood, just as Father Webb-Cam, the Rector, approached us. “The Brethren and I would like you to join us for supper, John,” he said, and we followed him into the dining room. The conversation was noisy and two nuns from a local convent were serving at table. This was cheaper than hiring professional staff.

One of them, Sister Vanillia, was very inquisitive. (I use this word properly instead of the word `nosey` because I would hate you to think that I was picking up on some facial disfigurement, which she suffered from, which I wasn`t. Honest.)


Holy Orders


During the meal, the Irish nun interrupted the conversation to say,” Sister Agrippina and I were talking, and we both thought that you must be a priest, also, although you do not wear a Roman collar.” My friends remained silent, smiling, waiting to see how I would deal with the situation.

“ Well, Sister,” I replied, trying to sound like John Wayne in one of his westerns,” you have caught me out. It is true that I studied at Heathrop and again at the Beda College, in Rome, and that I did indeed take Holy Orders.” I could hear my friends chuckling quietly, as I paused, drowned out by the voice of Sister Vanillia calling out, ”Oh, I knew it! I knew it! I knew it,” as she jumped up and down, sounding very much like Mrs Doyle from the Father Ted series.

 “I was serving in the bar at the Beda, at the time. “Cardinal Cassarole wanted a Crème de menthe, and Cardinal Bassoonio wanted a whiskey and ginger, on the rocks.” The poor nun retreated to the kitchen, trying to understand what I had said.

Arthur was quick to follow up. ”That sister reminded me of an Austrian nun, Sister Hildegarde, who came here to teach German. She was known by the boys for many years as “Sister Hellfinga”, because she had a nasty habit of using her right forefinger as a weapon. She would prod the poor unfortunate victims on the shoulder area, if they misbehaved or were not working well.

“Once, one of the day boys in the September intake, went home and complained to his father that all the German teacher taught in the first lesson were some German words and that “fish stay in the sea”. When his father came up to complain, he had to be told that she was not saying anything about fish, but asking the question, “do you understand? `verstehensie?“The boy was told to pay attention, in future.


The Cadet Force

The meal over, the Head, Father Douglas Lamb-Bader, stood and proposed some toasts to the school, the boys, the future, and to his beloved Combined Cadet Force(Army Section) which he had commanded for many years, earning himself a colonelcy in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve. 

Next, he regaled us with the success of the cadet summer camp, held at Jurby on the Isle of Man, including all the awards won there. Then, he went to another table and returned to his place carrying a rather worn pith helmet, which had two holes in it. They were remarkably like bullet holes. Everyone sat up, all straining to view the ancient object.

” Well, Gentlemen, I see that I have gained your attention with this museum piece,” said the Colonel. “One of the parents, a barrister by the name of Swan-Hunter, gave it to me, to go with the other items in our small museum, alongside the skull of our Jesuit cardinal, and the embalmed body of our three thousand year old boy. 

Incidentally, I have received requests from many people to have these two items properly buried. While we can deal with the Cardinal`s burial, I am told we would never be able to find a priest of the boy`s persuasion to perform the honours for him.”


The Pith Helmet


“Head, are we to assume that the owner of the helmet died in it?” asked Arthur.

“Glad you asked that,” said the Head.” This helmet belonged to a regimental sergeant major, an ancestor of the Swan-Hunters, who had fought in India. The barrister told me that the holes were not made by a bullet but with a knife. This was to show others how close the owner had come to death in the field. 

Apparently, the soldier would bore out the holes as part of a regimental tradition, which came to be known as `taking the pith`.

Everyone applauded, and the Head continued, ”Moreover, whenever the regiment paraded` as` a regiment, it was customary for the RSM to` take` the parade, at the end of which it was his duty to give the penultimate order, which went as follows. “Parade, parade `shun. Parade, parade, wait for it, wait for it…. PITH OFF!”

“Then, the colonel would give the order to dismiss, quickly followed by, ”Three cheers for the Sergeant Major!” The Colonel sat, Grace was said and the priests went their separate ways.


After breakfast, the following morning, Isaac and Arthur came with me to the car, to bid “Adieu!” “Marvellous tale about Madge,” Old Man,” said Arthur. “Come again soon and bring some more.” As we all shook hands, I said that I would. 

Suddenly, three boys, all aged about fourteen arrived, wearing the school uniform. Here was Isaac`s last piece of humour before I departed. ”I want you to meet three cousins, John.” He turned to the boys and said,” Gentlemen, tell my friend your names.”

The smallest, extending his hand, said,”It`s good to meet you, Sir. I am Whooper –Swann, Sir, that`s Whooper with a W.” The second boy proffered his hand and said, ”I`m Swann-Hunter, Sir,” and stepped away as his cousin stepped forward. ”I`m just A.  Swann Sir. My mother did not like the idea of double barrelled names. She said she didn`t want me to sound like a box of matches. Her name is Vester, Sir.”

With that, I got into my car. “By the way, the work you were looking for was knickers,” I shouted and drove home, hoping that I had not left anything behind, except good memories.


God willing there is more to follow, probably on a different theme.




As with all my stories and cartoons, any reference to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental, because my `characters` are purely fictional.


John Leahy

END: June 2013

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