Once more unto the Spinnaker, once more.
Return to the Spinnaker August 2020
Just as I got out of the car, Phil, the postman, came along the path and handed me an envelope. “Someone has had a problem with the address, or he is having a laugh,” he said with a smile and went as quickly as he had arrived. I looked at the envelope. There were two addresses, one of which was correct. The false address, which had been crossed out, read: “Mr Dai Laffin, The Cartoonist, The Crack, Wiseacre Avenue, Mirthy Side, Merryonneth, LAU 1 GH 2.” I guessed who had sent it, and when I opened it I was proved correct. It was no surprise. Father Arthur Wellington Boote SJ, was the culprit. He requested the pleasure of my company, once more, at the Spinnaker Prep School [the name had been changed on a whim, by a majority decision of the governors, sometime before, from Saint Borrell of Lemo,] and I responded right away by telephone, leaving a message with the school secretary, a person who styled herself as Ms Flam Boyant. [The Deed Poll Office has a lot to answer for, as you will find out as the story unfolds.]
A day later, I set off just after the rush hour, and made my way to Derbyshire, prepared with my anecdotes of school life and meetings with other people, who had caused me hilarity, since I had last met Arthur Boote SJ and Isaac Spender- Penny SJ.
After an eventful journey, I arrived at the school gates. The drive was filling up with the expensive vehicles of parents, who had come to collect their offspring. I drove slowly past these and found a space in the car park quite near to the entrance of the principal building. The afternoon was warm and sunny, and as I got out I put on my Tweed jacket and felt in the pockets to make sure I hadn`t dropped anything. As I began to walk, I realised that there were two young, teenage boys, in school uniform, following me. “Excuse us, Sir,” said one, “but aren`t you a detective?” I stopped and turned. “What makes you think that?” I asked. “You look like one,” continued the boy, “and we noticed the way you checked your jacket, as if you were searching somebody`s property.” “Yes, Sir,” said the other. “Have you come to arrest the Head or some of the teachers?” “Not today,” I replied, smiling. “Perhaps you could show me the way to reception.” “It would be our pleasure, Sir,” said the taller lad, finishing with, “Are you expected?” “Most certainly,” I replied. “I will just follow you.” The taller lad introduced himself as Dominic and the other Kevin. “My dad is a detective,” said Kevin. “He`s a superintendent. Do you know him?” I confessed that I didn`t. Then he told me he wanted to be a policeman and Dominic said that he wanted more than anything to be a barrister. “I`ve seen all the `Rumpole of the Bailey films on the telly, Sir, and read many such books, just to put me in the frame of mind to do the job. Kevin and I hope to work together. He`ll arrest and I will prosecute.” How good to see such keen interest in boys so young! Just then we arrived at Reception. “Thank you for your help,” I said, knocking on the door. “Not at all, Sir, only too glad to be of help,” they said in unison and walked off, smiling and chatting. “I`ll bet you he is a detective,” said Dominic, just loud enough for me to hear.
I entered the office, and introduced myself. “Oh, we`ve been expecting you,” said the portly, greying, middle aged woman behind the desk, who was reading an NHS pamphlet, entitled: `How to avoid Diabetes`, as she worked her way through a chocolate eclair. I wondered if she had made the connection between the pamphlet and the nearly empty cake box, lying temptingly half open, in front of her on the desk.
. “You are Father WB`s friend, aren`t you? He won`t be too long,” she said and sipped her tea from a large, pink mug named `Flam`. Before I could sit down on an uninvited chair, Arthur entered the room. “John,” he said, “good to see you. Come with me.”
Just as we left the room I heard the cake box being opened for a final time. “She will die intestate, John,” said Arthur. “How do you mean?” I asked. “Lack of will,” he said.
In the rapidly emptying common room, as teachers rushed on their way home or to supervise the boarders, we went over to the table adorned with sandwiches, biscuits, tea and coffee pots not to mention the accompanying crockery. We helped ourselves to coffee and a few sandwiches and sat down by the window, which gave a panoramic view of the countryside, including the wind farm which seemed to have grown since my last visit. “Isaac won`t be back until tomorrow,” said Arthur. “He`s still at an inter-faith conference in London, in your old college, St Mary`s, Strawberry Hill. Now, what have you been up to?”
“I`ve been writing and cartooning. Incidentally, I liked the name and address on the envelope. It certainly amused Phil, my postman,” I said. “I did it on a whim,” Arthur replied. “Sometimes, the best things are done on a whim.” I nodded in agreement. When we had finished our refreshments, Arthur helped me to take my cases up to my room, where he left me to get some rest before dinner. “As usual,” said Arthur, “Father Rector has invited you to dinner, John, and we will all expect a small, verbal contribution to the proceedings. There will be one or two new faces for you to meet, also. See you.” He left the room, leaving me to my own devices.
A gentle tapping on the door alerted me to the presence of Arthur. I must have dozed off in the comfortable armchair and I didn`t hear him enter. “It`s time for supper,” said Arthur, “you must have been really tired.” “Just another sign of old age, Arthur,” I said, “but I`m not worried just yet.” We were soon outside the dining room. “You will notice a very different room, John. We had to redecorate after the leavers` prank, which went a little too far. Something to do with a chemistry set experiment, which worked out as expected, at least from the boys` point of view. Anyway, far from it being a successful act of revenge, they did us a favour. The room hadn`t seen a decorator`s brush for years.”
Dining with Rector Richter
Father Richter, the Rector, greeted me as soon as I entered, welcoming me as an old friend. He introduced me to all the priests and hoped that my conversation would bring some amusement to one and all. One of the new priests was Father Henry Coe, a tall muscular type who liked to keep in good shape. “My nickname used to be Haricot Bean,” he said, “and when the boys found out I had run in the London Marathon, they upgraded me to Haricot Runner Bean.” [For those of you who didn`t get that, his nickname derived from Henry becoming Hari….]
After Grace, two nuns in grey habits pushed trolleys, laden with food, into the room, and served it to us all. Wine was poured by some of the priests and the soup course began. Father Rector opened the batting. “As you all know, Arthur has just returned from one of our missions, somewhere in Africa, as they say in those old spy films, and so perhaps you would care to tell us if anything amusing happened. Over to you, Arthur.”
A visit to Africa
“I would be delighted, Father,” said Arthur. “I was invited to visit an elderly ex pat`s farm, some miles from the mission church. This was a very large property. Lots of cattle roamed. As we were having lunch, the owner, Richard Nelson, told Van Groot, his manager, to tell us about the herds of wildebeest which had wandered over his property for several weeks, causing some damage. “Every day the men would report more destruction,” said Van Groot. “Then, one day, nothing untoward occurred. It was the same the next day. The wildebeest had gone,” he said.… “Hence the expression: `no gnus is good gnus`,” said Arthur. We all approved of Arthur`s humour, and he went on to tell us about his visit to the nearby Jesuit mission. “The priests liked to keep up with world events, and a new expression crept into the conversation, around the time when the allied powers kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. This concerned the words `mission creep`, which the Americans were using. It meant that the generals did not want their basic, original role in a country to get out of control and become too large for them to handle. During my stay, a retired US Jesuit cardinal, called Keiran Makeover, made a visitation to the mission. He had been sent
to our province to make a report. I was present with the three other priests from the area and the parish priest, Father Wendell SJ, who greeted His Eminence as he got out of the helicopter. “Your Eminence,” the English priest said, leading him by the elbow, “I have made sure that your favourite newspaper will be here for you,
every day of your visit, and I`ve acquired your favourite Irish and given you the best room in the house. We all hope that you will have an enjoyable and successful stay.” Father Bream, an old hand in the province, said, sotto voce, “One of the worst cases of mission creep that any one has ever witnessed.” This gave a whole new meaning to the expression. One or two of the brethren spluttered at this atrocious pun and Arthur, to turn the attention away from him-self, turned to me and said, “Anything interesting happened to you, John?”
Jack Dore, The Owl
“Yes,” I replied. “I was at The Steerforth Senior Sports Academy, recently, waiting in the corridor, to go into my first lesson of the day, when the headmaster, now called a `lead`, I believe, was doing his daily round or patrol of the school, with Greta Plomb, his trusted deputy from eastern Europe, over here to teach modern languages. She was a tall, angular woman, who wore a dark grey trouser suit, brown high heels, and a scarf to compliment her long, ginger hair, her face hiding behind a large pair of designer glasses. The head, Mr Jack Dore, always wore a dark blue suit, which everybody thought was bought from the same tailor who fitted out many members of Parliament, and his academic gown. Because of his large pointed ears and equally large spectacles he had acquired the nickname, `The Owl`.
They just happened to be passing one of the classrooms when the door opened and a small boy emerged saying, “But, Miss, I wasn`t being rude to you.” “Out!” she said with emphasis, accompanied by the quiet laughter of her pupils.
The boy closed the door quietly, and jumped as he turned, startled by the presence of the dignitaries standing in the corridor. The head spoke. “And why have you been told to leave your nest, alone, Bird? Are you fledging?” he asked, in that tone only a few heads have been able to achieve. The boy, trying to ignore the head`s puns, said, “Miss accused me of tweeting in class, Sir, but I wasn`t, Sir.” “Did Miss confiscate your mobile `phone, lad, which you shouldn`t have had in school, anyway?” the Owl enquired, holding out his hand to receive the offending apparatus, as he stooped to further intimidate the boy. “B….but that`s the whole point, Sir,” the poor boy responded. “I don`t have a mobile `phone.” The head straightened up and asked, “Well how on earth did you manage to tweet, when you don`t have a confounded `phone, lad?” he demanded. Bird started to walk backwards, away from the top brass, and said, “Like this, Sir.” He opened his mouth and the sound of a cheerful blackbird, on a hot summer`s day filled the corridor. “That`s how I tweeted, Sir,” he said, sheepishly, not knowing what to expect next. “Go and wait outside my office, Boy!” the Head thundered, “and I`ll cage you with half an hour`s detention… tonight.” Bird obeyed and walked away in the direction of the Head`s office. “Well I never. Whatever next?” the Head said to Miss Plomb, as they continued their patrol. Just then, the bell rang to signal the end of the period, and the classrooms disgorged their unwilling inmates.
Father Goodenough, unsmiling but seemingly interested was one of the newer faces at table, and he asked, “Are your stories for real, or do you just make them up, John?” “Oh, they are real enough. I`ve made a hobby of collecting them over the years. If you`re interested, there was more to that character, Bird,” I said.
The bird which wouldn`t sing
“Some of the boys picked on him for the silliest of reasons, and decided to get him into trouble, just for a laugh. Over a week, they pilfered some chocolate bars and sweets from the tuck shop and kept them for their grand plan. The bars had special wrappers on them, which were usually only removed when the items were paid for. But the boys did not remove the wrappers, this time. Then, one day, as the unsuspecting Bird came from the boys` toilets, the gang` of five `kidnapped` him and bundled him into the PE department changing rooms. He was found by one of the PE teachers, sometime later, hanging from a clothes hook wrapped in his school blazer, which the abductors had taken off him, as part of their plan. They had then replaced it, so that his arms were not in the sleeves. The jacket was then buttoned to prevent him getting out of it. Then one of them sewed it down the front with some string and a large needle to make sure there was no chance of escape. Another boy put the stolen sweets into Bird`s pockets and he was left, dangling, but not before one of them had gagged his mouth with his school tie. When the PE teacher found him, he added insult to injury by taking a photo of him, which he put on the school net, and then invited the head to see what he had found. Once the gag was removed, in the Head`s presence, Bird said, “It looks like they stitched me up good and proper, don`t it, Sir? But I`m not going to sing, this time,” he said, “if you get my drift, Sir?” Again, the Owl was not amused, and told Bird he would deal with the matter in good time.
The Wise Owl
Later on that day, during the Owl`s afternoon rounds, I was waiting to go into another classroom when he walked slowly along the corridor, notebook in hand. One of the doors was open, and I could hear the young woman finishing off her lesson. “Who can tell me about the pleistocene period?” she asked, pointing to the word on the board. A boy called out, “Miss, that`s the lesson when Mrs Gower lets us use the modelling clay.” I saw the head pause, then, move on, as if he had thought better of saying something.
From the frying pan into the fire
Just then, the nuns brought in the main course and Father Rector said, “Father Daly, would you care to tell the brethren that amusing anecdote you told me, yesterday?” “Of course, Father,” replied the Irishman. “D` ye know, `tis amazing who you meet on those courses which we are sent on. I was on one of those ecumenical, theology courses, at a centre near Liverpool.” Arthur interrupted, saying, “In Mirtheyside, no doubt.” “Oh, and er, yes, where was I?” continued Daly, “and I met a few guys from the other persuasions. One had decided, and had made the break, to come and join us. This was a very nice chap, whose name was Archie Snows. He had been disgruntled for some time with his bishop, who liked to be called Father Andrew. Now, Archie, shortly to be known as Father Archie, in our church, told me of his predicament. Prior to his ordination in the Anglican Church, he had pestered Bishop Andrew Truss, on many occasions, pleading with him not to give him a country parish, as he wanted to work in the inner city and tackle some of its problems, but he was ignored. Now, Archie had acquired a nickname from the other clergy and had put up with it until he could stand it no longer. He applied to the Catholic bishop and asked him if there would be a chance of becoming a priest in his diocese, explaining his views on how the Church of England was changing, and after a formal interview, was given a place at the seminary. He waited until his final Evensong, in the city parish, to which I had been invited, to take his revenge on the Bishop, who was also present. At the end of his sermon, Archie announced to the gasps of the congregation his intentions to leave and become a Roman Catholic priest. He paused and waited for the shocked parishioners to recover. “Now, I must thank Bishop Andrew for his lack of support and unwillingness to help me on many occasions. Although Bishop Truss often told his clergy that his door was always open, it was always closed, if not locked, when I approached. So, thank you Bishop Sue Port, as you are known by the clergy, for all your ineffectual help.” Then Father Daly continued. “After the service we were having a buffet with the parishioners in the church hall. One old couple approached and asked me, “What was the difficulty our Vicar was having, Father?” asked the man. “I believe it was concerned with his name,” I replied… “It was Parson Snows, and knowing how the RC priests behave about nicknames, he`s going to be stuck with it.”
The Albatross, a wily old bird
Father Albert Ross, nearly sixty, and considered to be a wily, old bird by many, who had been quietly listening, was a dyed in the wool Jesuit, who never said too much, and was considered not to be a humorous type. However, he took his chance to make one or two observations. “If I may interject, at this point,” he said, the Oxford accent giving away his origins, “I`ve listened carefully to your stories and thought I could perhaps add an old, Jesuit chestnut, which I heard many years ago.” All were agog. He folded his arms and began. “Just after the captured Napoleon Bonaparte had been sent to the Isle of Elbe, a new chaplain was sent to him. When he arrived at the house, a coffin was about to be buried in the adjacent church yard. “Who was that?” the priest asked a servant in the house. “Oh, that was your predecessor, Father. His Majesty has just had him shot by a loyal retainer. A few days ago, he had inadvertently asked The Emperor if he would be going on retreat again this year.”
Father Rector in Court
Father Rector was asked to tell us of his latest trip to Farm Street, in London, and he obliged by telling us of a visit he had made to a magistrates court, local to where he was staying. “We witnessed a case of drunk and disorderly,” he said. “It made a nice break from the rain and the street noise.” He paused, not so much for effect, but to take a few sips from his wine glass. “Father Finnon and I had just got a couple of seats in the crowded court room, when we were all ordered to stand,” he began. “Three magistrates entered. The leading magistrate, a man and two women associates.” The wine was diminishing in the Rector`s glass with all the pauses, but he soon got into his stride. “ The ruddy faced, chief magistrate was clearly in charge, the others leaving all the work to him, not so much because they were intimidated by him, it would be fair to say, but because they had enjoyed his previous performances and were hoping to enjoy his present one.
Singing into the wind
The young prisoner was escorted to the dock and gave his name. The clerk called out, “Are you Sir Douglas Fareways, of Runymede Gardens, Balham?” “I am,” he said and sat when requested. A red faced, portly sergeant, sporting a grey, walrus moustache, and whose days of running after suspects were long over, stepped into the box to give evidence. Having been sworn in, with great dignity he unbuttoned his tunic pocket and retrieved his notebook from which he read an account of the arrest. “In the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, the fourteenth, at three o`clock, to be precise, I was proceeding along the street, when I came across the accused in a state of inebriation and clearly the worse for wear. An empty bottle of wine lay on the ground, nearby. [Clearly, he meant an empty wine bottle.] He was standing on a bench and singing raucously, at the top of his voice, so as to compete with the noise of the high wind which was blowing at the time, yer Honour.” The leading magistrate interrupted. “Are you trying to tell the Court that a knight, in gale, sang in Berkeley Square, Sergeant?” “Couldn`t `ave put it better, myself, yer Honour,” replied the smug looking sergeant. Many in the room laughed at the Magistrate`s humorous remark. Turning to the accused, the Magistrate asked, “Well, what have you got to say for yourself, young man?” “I`m guilty as charged, your Honour,” the now sober knight replied. “My friends and I had been to a restaurant and were going on somewhere, when one of them suggested a song would be in order, and what better place was there, for a knight to perform a song?” “I quite understand,” said the Magistrate. He turned to the other magistrates, who nodded. Then he said, in sombre tones, “We are all agreed. As nobody was harmed, on this occasion, and since you gave me such a marvellous punch line, so to speak, case dismissed. You are free to go.” The Court rose and my friend and I went on our way.”
Discussing the weather
After supper, Isaac, Arthur and I went into the common room to read the papers and Isaac turned on the wide screen television set so that we could get the news. The weather forecast was on. The weather man said, “The rain which fell in the north of England today, will be falling in the south, tomorrow.” “That`s as good as one I heard last winter,” said Isaac. “The man said, “The snow which fell today will be creeping slowly southward tomorrow.” “Another weather man showed us a map,” said Arthur. “This chart should be treated as two halves,” he said. “The larger half contains rain, and the smaller half will remain dry.” “English as she ees spoke,” said Isaac. “I`ve often heard people use the expression `two halves`. Could there ever be more than two?” he said.
“I came across an advert for a church cleaning job, recently,” I said, taking the newsletter from my pocket. The advert outlined what the job was and where. It continued, “The successful candidate will be required to work closely with the parish priest, his is a permanent post working 12 hours per week, as required. The salary is £5,709 per annum.” Confusing. Was the advert telling us about the parish priest and his salary or that of the cleaner? The typist should have paid more attention to the comma in front of the word `his`.
After supper we watched the television and retired, observing the `grand silence`.
The next morning, after Mass, we went into the dining room for breakfast, again waited on by the worthy nuns. Cereals and health food were on offer. Fried bacon, eggs and kippers were not on the menu. Now, Arthur had some plans for the day, one of which was to eat out at a new pub, some miles away. This sounded like a good idea. Then, after some more fortifying tea, we took a walk in the grounds and chatted.
Suitable cases for the Deed Poll Office
A handful of the boarders, on their way to prep before the main lessons, approached. Some of them replied to our “Good morning,” and walked on, while some dawdled for a brief few words. Among these were three boys of varying ages, who seemed quite happy to be out and about at school, long before classes would begin. Arthur introduced them to me. “John,” he said, “I would like you to meet these young brothers.” All of them proffered their right hands simultaneously, shaking me vigorously by the hand, as they said, “Good morning Father, good morning, Sir. We are the Brighton- Earleys. We like to live up to our name by being on time wherever we go.” One of his brothers nudged him with his elbow. “Remind Father of the joke contest,” he said quietly. “Oh, er, yes, Father, you didn`t forget the joke contest, did you?” “No, replied Arthur. “Tell the others to come to the Chaplain`s room at break time, there`s a good fellow.” “Very well, Father,” the boy said. Then he wished me a good visit, and said, “If you will excuse us, Gentlemen, we must be on our way. We don`t want to be late for pre-school prep.” Just as they moved away, two more boys arrived. “Tell us who you are boys. You both know me. This is my friend who is visiting. They both wished us a good morning and the younger one said, “We are the Whyte-Cliffes of Dover. Although we get on well, we have been told that we are as different as Chalk and Cheese, who are in the upper school.” Arthur reminded them of the joke contest, and they were on their way as quickly as they had paused. As we walked on, several senior boys, in tracksuits and trainers came from the nearby changing rooms and onto the field. “Can`t stop for a chat, Father,” said one, “we are running late”. Then we heard the sound of boys` raised voices as we walked on to the playing field. A row was going on in the changing room. We were just in time to hear the end of it, as their teacher intervened. We could make out that some of the boys wanted to form another football eleven, for those who were never picked for the teams called bantams or chicks. They had already decided to call the team “The Budgies”. The PE teacher very quickly dampened their ardour for the project by saying, “Somehow, boys, I don`t think the Budgies would ever succeed!” This was, however, lost on the boys.
When we arrived at the main building, Arthur went into the office for letters and information about Isaac. He had `phoned to say he would be back for lunch, and so Arthur and I went into the Senior Common Room to read the newspapers, and chat with any willing teachers, who were unfortunate enough to be in there.
The Joke Session, AMDG
Just before eleven, we went to the Chaplain`s room, which was in the corridor next to the entrance to the Chapel. Chairs had been set out for a class. Arthur took a cardboard box from a cupboard and placed it on the teacher`s desk. “These contain most of the jokes, John. Some of them are really good. I hope you will help me to spread them over the table and then to adjudicate. Those who are willing will tell their jokes in front of the others and we will decide the winners,” said Arthur. “Brace yourself, the bell is about to ring,” he said, looking at his watch. Just then, I noticed Arthur`s poster on the wall; `Comedians required, only serious candidates need apply`.
About three minutes later, the room started filling up. The boys sat quietly and Arthur introduced me and called out the order of joke telling. Each piece of paper had AMDG, written at the top and LDS at the bottom, with the joke in between. Father said to everybody, “Well, boys, can you tell me and my friend what the letters AMDG stand for?” Back came the noisy reply, “AMDG means All men drink gin. LDS means Ladies do sometimes.” The boys sat, smiling and congratulating themselves, and Arthur said, “If the Headmaster were in here, what would you have said?” The boys responded just as noisily, “ Ad majoram Dei gloriam, Praise to God always:To the greater glory of God, and Praise God always.” [Incidentally, for those who didn`t attend a Jesuit school all written work done in class or at home had to have AMDG and LDS written before and after the exercise. Father F.X. Sharp told us at St Francis Xavier`s College the real meaning of the words, all those years ago .It`s amazing the things we remember. What a good teacher.]
Arthur warned the boys not to call out, “Boom, Boom,” after each punch line, as Basil Brush wasn`t a favourite of his.
AMDG “The merry Jokers” LDS
Phil Bert was first. His skit name was `Hazelnut`. I heard some boys say it just as he stood to tell his joke. “One day,” he said,” four bald men got on a bus. Which one was obliged to tender his fare?” Nobody knew the answer. “Why, the one with the wig had to pay,” he said. “Get it? Toupee? Worn on the head?” He sat. Out of politeness the boys clapped, aware that their own jokes might fall flat. Then I called James `Page` Turner, known as such because his mother was a highly thought of paper back writer, as I found out later from Arthur. This young man was well known for cracking jokes and eggs at breakfast time. “At the powdered egg factory, every day before the first shift, what does the manager say as he finishes his briefing?” asked the boy.... “Let`s get cracking,” called out Phil Bert. The boy sat.
Arthur called out, “Philip Clifton-Bridge, you are next, please.” The boy stood, and told us of a rambler making his way along a country lane. “The man was admiring a flock of un-sheared sheep,” said Clifton-Bridge. “By the hedge, a man who looked like a farm hand was eating his lunch, and the rambler said to him, “Some fine looking ewes in that field, don`t you think?” The hand replied, “Oi can`t see no ewes.” “But they`re standing there, only a few feet away from us,” said the walker. “You must be able to see them.” “Can`t!” said the hand, “but you can do a spelling test to convince me that you can see them, if you likes.” The rambler nodded. “Well then, spell `orse`,” said the countryman. The townsman obliged. “Apostrophe, o r s e,” he said. “Spell, `the field`,” said the hand.” “F i e l d,” he replied. “But you left out the `u`,” said the hand. “There isn`t a `u` in `the field`,” said the rambler. “That`s what I`ve been trying to tell yer. They all be rams. Oi knows that `cos oi looked earlier on.” The joke was acknowledged and Clifton-Bridge sat.
Colin Hall was called next. He stood up and announced himself. “I am Colin Victor Hall, known to one and all as C Vic Hall. Not everybody can boast of a public building in many towns, named after them. As you know, my dad owns a large farm, dealing in dairy cattle and some pigs. Dad told me he was going to sack the vet, because when one of the pigs was ill last month, a croaking noise coming from its throat, the vet suggested that the pig was a little hoarse, and we should give it some `oinkment`. My dad said that if a vet couldn`t tell the difference between a pig and a horse he wasn`t worthy of his calling. Colin bowed and sat. “A great deal of information there, Colin,” said Arthur. “Would you care to tell us what happened to your cousins, last Christmas?” Colin, not one to keep things to himself, stood. “Thank you, Father,” he said. “Just before Christmas, my cousins, Albert, aka `Dock,` and Phil, he has the nickname `Philharmonic`, were attacked by two boys from an academy, near where we live. The assailants knocked them over with two tree branches. Apparently, the policeman who came on the scene asked the offenders why they had carried out this act. One replied, “We have just been singing carols in school, and one of them says, `deck the Halls with boughs of holly, and so we did.”
John Jenkinson was next. “I asked my cousin, Rachel, why her mother had locked her dad in the garden shed, and she replied, “My mum said he must self-isolate because of his infectious laugh.”
“Almost there,” sighed Arthur. “Adam West.” The boy, called `Batman` by his peers, stood. “I was telling my mother we had been studying magnetism in class, and she said my uncle has a magnetic personality; but he attracts all the wrong people.”
“Just two more,” said Arthur. He called out, “Erle Gray!” I could tell that he had refrained from saying his jokes are not everybody`s cup of tea. Gray stood. “Two cannibals were talking, and one said, “I wouldn`t be bothering with that person over there. I`ve just seen him eating a bag of sweets, an ice cream and some sugary cakes.” His friend replied, “You are right. He seems a very unsavoury person to me.”
Brazenose was called next. He stood and looked seriously at Arthur. “Father, I wish to ask you a question,” he said, assuming an air of thoughtfulness, his right hand clasping his chin. “By all means, young man,” said Arthur, smiling. “Father,” he said, “why are frogmen considered to be stupid? “I`ve never given it much thought,” said Arthur, “perhaps you would care to tell us.” “Well, Father, they insist on going to work in wet suits.” Immediately, the first groan of the session filled the room. “Unfortunately,” said Arthur, “that`s all we have time for, just now. My friend and I will decide on the winners, and we will finish off at a later date and give you the results. Thank you boys,” he said, and they all made their way to their next lesson, discussing some of the jokes they had just heard. LDS
“Some good jokes in that lot,” I said, and Arthur agreed. “It`s a good thing I didn`t tell them what I overheard in a school playground, one break time,” I said. “I was walking around, on duty, and I noticed some boys seemingly engrossed in a discussion. I leaned against a nearby wall to listen. They were discussing their aunties. “What do you call yours, Spinno?” asked one. He replied, “We call our Aunty Barbara, Aunty Vi, because of her addiction to vitamins.” “Well, we call our Aunty Marge the Gossip, `cos she`s always spreading the news about everyone else,” said Timmo. Billy said, “We call Aunty Liz, Bet, because of her addiction to the dogs and horses.” “We call our Aunt Ann, Auntie Bi, cos she`s always on the antibiotics,” said Jimmy. Another boy said, “Our Auntie June is called Kitty, because we can always scrounge some extra pocket money off her.” Ken spoke up. “We call our Auntie Fran, Aunt Eff. It`s not because of her name, but because she`s always…” At that moment the bell rang, drowning out his explanation, which was left to my imagination.
The Linesman of the County
After the break, Arthur showed me around the chapel and we looked at some artefacts which were usually kept at Stonyhurst College, up north. One was the skull of a long dead Jesuit cardinal [he was six feet seven inches tall] the other, the partially mummified body of a baby which was about three thousand years old. I had to agree with Arthur when he suggested that it was about time both were buried.
Just before noon Isaac walked in. “Hello, John, Arthur,” he said, “I was told I would find you in here. I got the early train and a taxi from the station. How are you both?” “Just going out for lunch, Isaac,” said Arthur. “We hope you will join us.” Isaac agreed and we set off within a few minutes. I drove them to yet another country pub, recommended for its lunches. I found a place in the crowded car park and we entered the building. At the reception desk we skimmed through the menu and gave our order immediately. We were shown to a table near the large, empty fireplace and sat down. “Do you think our `lady` friend will pay us a visit?” asked Isaac, with a grin. “I could do with some amusement.”
A waiter cleared some used glasses and dessert bowls from the table and brought fresh glasses. “Will you be ordering wine, Father?” he asked Arthur. “No thank you, we are keeping our driver company with the water,” he said, thoughtfully.
“A rather interesting name for a pub, `The Linesman of the County,” I said, opening the conversation. Isaac nodded, while Arthur, with his fine eye for detail, spoke what I was thinking. He, also, had noticed the word `linesman`. “Surely,” he said, “that word should be `lineman` for the county. At, least it was when the song aired all those years ago,” said Arthur. Isaac said, “Maybe it has nothing to do with the song. It`s probably just an error made by the sign writer.” At that moment, a tall, smart looking dark suit approached, and welcomed us to the hostelry. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said.” “I am Christian Sherry, your Host, and owner of this hotel. This must be your first visit here, and I hope you will be pleased with our service. May I help you with anything?” he asked.
“We were intrigued with the spelling on your sign, outside,” said Arthur. “Surely, it should read `Lineman ` for the county, according to the title of the song.” “It has nothing to do with the song, gentlemen. You are the first people to mention it, but it does have something to do with a man, I once knew. He was a teacher at a school where I was a pupil and he earned himself the nickname, `The Doctor`. Very apt, I think, given the circumstances. The name of the pub is a dedication to him. When I was twelve, we were in his class for History, and during our very first lesson, he made an impression on me and most of the others, by his manner and attitude toward us. Some of us never forgot the way he worked for us, and showed us that we had the right to be educated without interruption from other pupils.
It all started when the round of coughing started. After the fourth boy had coughed hoping to get others to join in, Sir said, in a very matter of fact, quiet voice, “It would seem to me that a prescription will be needed to cure this cough, before it becomes infectious.” He took a sheet of A4 lined paper from his briefcase and said, “The prescription will be to copy out page 10 of the text book on one side of the paper. If this does not work, the dose will be increased to two sides of the paper, and if this fails there will be a trip to the clinic for an hour`s detention.”
The smiles disappeared from the faces of the trouble makers for the time being, because some were determined to annoy him no matter what he did. And so, they became his first patients. He carried out the same tactics in his other lessons, and, as I found out over the years, he used the same methods in other schools. By my reckoning, and that of others in my peer group, he must have given out the most lines in the area, in his attempt to provide trouble free lessons for those willing to learn…. hence the pub`s title. I can`t speak for the others, but he put me on the right track in life, and I think his ways made me the success I am today.”
“Quite a remarkable story,” said Isaac. “Do you remember what his real name is?” queried Isaac. “Did you ever meet him again when you had finished school?” “No, Father,” replied the Landlord, “and I doubt if I would know him if I bumped into him today. It was all so long ago. It was interesting meeting you all,” he said. “I presume you are teachers from the Catholic College nearby. I hope to see you in here, again. You will excuse me, now. I can see there is some business to attend to.” He walked away towards the kitchen, just as the waitress arrived with our meals perched on both arms. There are very few who can manage this, and it takes lots of practice. “Here you are, gentlemen,” she said, as she placed the plates in front of us. Enjoy! If you need anything, just call.” She walked away, smiling, and headed for another table, pencil and notepad at the ready.
Gullibles` Travellers in the USA
We had all decided on the fish and chips, in order to support the fishing industry, as the Church had done in years gone by, especially on Fridays, and the restaurant began filling up as we conversed. “Isaac,” said Arthur, “I`m sure John would love to hear about your recent trip to America.” “Fine,” said Isaac, swallowing his last forkful of fish. “My interest in country and western music, and its many singers, took me on a Greyhound trip, across some of the states, and it included a visit to a place where Bo Diddley had lived for some time. However, that trip did not turn out as expected. It was clear after half an hour that the driver had lost his way, and he took us to several places where he thought the singer had lived. This was unusual for Greyhound drivers, for they are usually spot on. There was a sigh of relief when he stopped the coach in a car park and invited us to get out and follow him, as he was sure he had finally pinpointed the right house. However, much to our annoyance, the owner of the property told us, in no uncertain terms, that the person in question had never even visited the county, let alone resided in his house. Exasperated, we all returned to the coach, with one of the passengers declaring loudly, in his Texan drawl, “I told you the driver didn`t know diddley` squat!”
Our friend Fuss in Boots
Just then, our conversation was interrupted by a commotion on the far side of the room. A loud voiced woman, wearing a black coat and knee high red boots, was starting to pick an argument with a member of the waiting staff. “Your wish has come true,” I said with a smile. “She`s here!” We closed our mouths to hear what was happening. The nameless woman, whom we had met on several previous occasions, always picked her moment to complain. She was a seasoned campaigner, whose intention was to procure a free meal, especially when she had eaten it. She was complaining about the fish which she had received although she had eaten three quarters of it. The waitress, seeing that she could not cope with the situation, called her superior, a rather tall moustachioed gentleman. He listened to the woman, who complained about the sharp tang on the fish, and said in a loud domineering voice, “Well, Madam, as far as I am aware, you did ask for something with a bit of a bite in it!” He paused for effect. “And so, we thought piranha would fit the bill.” As the red faced woman stood and then flounced towards the door, a ripple of laughter went round the room with a little applause. An American man somewhere in the crowd called out, “Bravo! Trust you Limeys to put on a floor show to brighten up a dull afternoon.”
The Landlord came out of the kitchen and, accompanied by the Head waiter, followed the woman to the front desk, where the haggling began. Our conversation resumed. “That American was right,” said Arthur, “she did enliven the afternoon.” “I caused a bit of a stir in the queue at a local country restaurant. It was in a garden centre, and I went to look at the menu. I noticed that breakfasts were being served up to eleven o`clock. One of the items was `The early bird breakfast`. It looked appetising, although not good for those on the verge of, or diagnosed with, diabetes. The server asked for my order. “The early bird breakfast, please, with a side order of worms.” There was shocked silence, as my comment sunk in. The woman operating the till said, “Nobody has ever asked for that before.” “Well,” I said, “you have offered something that is not quite accurate. Your advertised breakfast does not offer what birds would eat normally, namely worms. Although they would all have a go at the other items, if offered to them.” “D`yer want it or not?” demanded the woman, watching the smiles on the rest of the people. “Yer `olden up the queue.” I did order the said breakfast. When it arrived at the table I told the waiter that I had expected him to bring a garden trowel, so that I could go and dig up some worms. “We will make a note of it for next time,” he said with a smile.
Shortly after, we sipped our coffee on the patio in the sunshine, and Isaac asked if I had ever given lines or held detentions. “Yes, I did both,” I said. “One memorable occasion was when I had given some copying out to a fourteen year old, Paul Davies by name, in the Liverpool Colgate School, as the pupils called it. He came to me, accompanied by a friend, for moral support and who was clearly egging him on, to ask if I would let him off. “Where is your blue touch paper?” I asked. “What do you mean, Sir?” he asked. “You said I should let you off, and so I wanted to oblige by lighting the blue touch paper as I would with a firework,” I replied. “No, Sir,” he said, impatiently, unable to understand what I was saying. But I could see that he was genuinely sincere, when, with a cheeky grin, he said, “I`ll lick your shoes.” “I beg your pardon,” I said, surprised. The boy repeated, “I`ll lick your shoes.” Immediately, he got down onto the floor and licked both my shoes. Then he stood up, smiling, and waited for my reply. “No,” I said, “I will not let you off.” When they realised I was serious, they wandered off, saying , “R A, Sir.” I received the writing out the next day.
At that time, a serial called `The Forsyth Saga` was shown on the television, giving me a new opening. If boys failed to do their two sides of writing, ` the penance`, as it became known, would be doubled, and then it would be known as “The Four Sides Saga`. Incidentally, the Head, Mr Woodward, whom I`ve mentioned on previous occasions, burst into the staffroom one day, on a high, as it is known, aware that he would have a large audience, to tell us that he had just expelled a boy from the sixth form. That caught everyone`s attention. “I have expelled the boy,” he said, “because of the forgery of his sick notes. The signature on today`s note did not match with any of the previous ones. He told us that `today`s` note had indeed been signed by his father, whereas all the others over the past five years had been signed by the boy himself.” The expulsion was clearly an act of revenge on the part of Mr Woodward, because the boy had duped him and the system for so long. Some of the staff laughed in disbelief while others applauded.
“Were they applauding the Head or the boy?” I had wondered.
Nailing one`s coffin
“When I was at the senior school to the Spinnaker,” I continued, “in fact during my first lesson, a third year boy deliberately rattled a six inch nail on his desk, as I was standing directly in front of it. “Why have you got that nail?” I enquired. “It`s my bog lock,” he said, grinning. “My bog lock,” he repeated. “We all have them, Sir,” he said, quite proudly. “Yes, Sir,” they all said, holding their shiny nails aloft. “Why do you need a bog lock?” I asked. He replied, “There are no locks on the toilet doors sir, as they`ve been kicked off by the older boys. So we need the nails to bolt the toilet doors for privacy.” I told them that I had understood. “However,” I continued, “if I hear or see any more nails, I will be forced to confiscate them.”
Unfortunately for him, the same boy rattled his nail on the desk one more time, to see if I meant what I had said. To the strains of, “I`m sorry, Sir, it won`t happen again,” I took the offending nail and placed it in my briefcase. “You will have to borrow a nail from your friend, if you need it,” I said at the end of the lesson. No more was heard of the nail, until two days later when the poor boy approached and said, “Please, Sir, could I have my bog lock back, I haven`t been for two days.” Naturally, I obliged.
Toasting Mr Marsh-Mallow, not as soft as you would think
After all my talking, we were ready to leave, and so after a visit to the services we headed for the car park. I followed the others. We wandered along a path to see where it went, and to walk off some of the meal. I took up the conversation. “In another school, where I spent some time, the new head, Derek Marsh- Mallow, was determined to show who was boss, and didn`t go out of his way to ingratiate himself with the staff. He started in the staffroom. Before the first day of the new term, when he took up the reins, so to speak, he had all the old Parker Knoll armchairs removed from the staffroom. These were replaced with more uncomfortable, modern armchairs, whose backs reached halfway up the spine, and were painful if not useless for the taller members of staff.
On the second or third day, the head was in the staffroom, at break time, chatting to various teachers. One of the senior men commented, “We`ve been trying out these new chairs, Mr Marsh-Mallow and they are not all that comfortable. One can`t even get comfortable enough to have forty winks before the rigours of the next lesson.” The head froze on his way to the door, turned, glowered and said, “You are not in this room, or that chair, to avail yourself of a nap, Mr Sitwell. You are in here to update your information, to prepare lessons or to mark your many exercise books.” He went towards the door without further ado. Before he opened it he turned and said, “Shouldn`t you be on the way to your next lesson?” He closed the door firmly, leaving us all to mull over what he had just said.
In this same school, certain staff members had been accustomed to solving crossword puzzles, and took as many opportunities as possible to solve them. Some said that crosswords helped to distract them be easing the tensions of the day while others enjoyed trying to win the prizes in newspapers or in crossword magazines. Some even photocopied crosswords to keep their classes quiet. I, myself, would compile my own crosswords for use in class, sometimes in French, but mostly in English.”
Crosswords and a tale of revenge
Arthur interrupted. “Yes, I remember you telling us about that. Do tell us again about that time you sent one to a Scottish newspaper. I found the story highly amusing.” “Well, it was quite easy really,” I said. “For some time the paper produced a crossword, each week, and readers were asked to send in ones which they had compiled. The lucky solver would receive one hundred pounds for his efforts, whereas, the compiler would receive, for his even greater effort, yes, wait for it, the princely sum of five pounds.” The others gasped in disbelief. “To continue, about a year after that payment, I received a letter and VAT forms from the Financial Editor of the paper, asking me as “a contributor” to fill them in. Well, I thought for a while, and sometime later, I decided to have some fun of my own. I took a sheet of “A4” paper and wrote two short letters on it. The first was to the finance editor, telling him that I had only ever contributed one item, and that was a year before. Finally, I wrote, “Would you please forward the letter on the bottom half of this paper to the crossword editor, as I have run out of the five pounds which I was originally paid.” I paused for breath, and to observe the swans on the river.
“Come on, John, don`t keep us in suspense, what happened next?” asked Isaac. “Well,” I replied, “within the week, I received a letter from the crossword editor, telling me that the Paper`s letter should never have been sent. Also, he sent his apologies for inconveniencing me…But he didn`t send me any more money, or refer to my sarcastic letter.”
On the way back to the car, Arthur and Isaac were eager to hear about the crossword solving teachers.
“One morning,” I continued, “I went into the staffroom where Leanne Perrin was sitting at a table, newspaper spread out in front of her. I could see she was engrossed in a crossword and not in marking or preparation. Suddenly, she looked up and said to the man reading another paper at the same table, “Oh, God, Ivor, six letters, woman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry?” “I wouldn`t know, Dear,” he replied. “I`ve never been to Coventry even though I`ve been sent there enough times. The wife wouldn`t have let me look, anyway.”
A day later, our two Welsh teachers were busy with their crosswords, when the one nearest to me asked his friend from Cardiff, “Female swan, Dai?” “Why, that`s a pen, Gwyn,” he replied, without realising what he had just said, causing me to laugh quietly to myself.
That afternoon, two women were in the staffroom before I arrived, sitting in those uncomfortable chairs. Anna Gram, nicknamed thus by the pupils, because she used word puzzles in her lessons, engrossed in a crossword, called out, as a second woman entered, “Oh, hi, Ena, wild, laughing prairie dog with no manners?” “Oh, that would be Ray in the PE department,” she replied. The room was filled with their raucous laughter. The school Chaplain, Rev Deacon Albert Cope, aka The Alb, was busy with his crossword, one Monday morning, having just taken school assembly. He sipped his tea as he surveyed the clues. Then he started to write in some answers. Within moments he called out to a friend, Frank Runcie, “Pope, Francis, who was born in Argentina?” His immediate reply was, “Sorry, Rev, I wouldn`t know, I`m a non-practising Anglican, myself.” A couple of days later, Head of Computer Studies, and all things related, because of the courses he had attended, Vic Crossman was `doing` a crossword in the common room and I noticed he was a bit perplexed by one of the clues. One of the staff`s complainers was sipping her tea, both hands clasped round the decorative, pink mug, when Vic called out in her direction, “History was never one of my strongpoints…. Moaner… dam bombed by the RAF in the Second World War?” “Och, sorry,” she said, “I only studied the Tudors and Stuarts.”
On another occasion, two forms had been preparing to go to the museum and had been given their worksheets, before entering the building. They had already chosen their partners. We teachers had to wander around, making sure the boys were behaving, and not secreting any of the objects on or about their person. I made my way to the sedan chair display with Mr Crossman, a good name for a teacher. He had brought along his book of more difficult crosswords, and was so bored with the museum that he decided to solve some crosswords, just as so many have need of a stiff drink, and skived off by hiding in one of the sedan chairs. Vic got to work, clearly oblivious of the time, as things turned out. Towards the end of the day, the head did his rounds, getting the boys to go and assemble near the entrance for roll call. I overheard him ask two boys if they had seen Mr Crossman, just as four porters lifted Vic`s chair, and took it into another room. “Yes, Sir,” said one boy, “I think he got carried away with one of his crosswords.”
“I can`t imagine how I would have coped with such a teacher as Vic,” said Arthur, as we headed for the car. “Did you ever send in any more crosswords?” asked Isaac. “Yes,” I replied, “I sent one to a crossword magazine, which seemed very hesitant to use it, and I wrote to ask why this was so. The female editor wrote to tell me that they already had some compilers of their own and were not looking for any more, and that they wouldn`t accept my offering as crosswords do not have answers of two letter words. Little did she know .To disabuse her of that thought, I sent her a copy of the Daily Mail `shortest and hardest crossword`, which has nothing but two and three letter word answers. I didn`t expect a reply to my letter, and so I wasn`t too disappointed when none came.”
Car park notices
My clerical friends had enjoyed my stories and we made our way back to the school, just before the parents were due to arrive. I parked near the school entrance. “Have you noticed those signs in supermarket car parks?” I asked. “The ones which say `Parent and Child Only`?” “Yes, we have, John,” said Isaac. “What of them?” “ I was in such a car park, recently,” I said, “and an officious warden from one of those private firms was remonstrating with an elderly man pushing a very old woman in a wheel chair, having just parked in such a reserved space. “Ere, can`t you read?” the warden shouted at the man, “Parent and child, only!” The elderly man replied very quietly, “Well, that`s all right, then. Thank you for telling me. This is my mother and I am her son. Is that all right, with you?” The warden was too stunned to say anything. “Another time, in a different car park, an irate warden, clearly out to catch as many people as possible, was telling a driver who was trying to help a man out of the passenger seat of his car, “Can`t you read? The notice says `Badge Holders Only`. “Well if this isn`t a case of bad shoulders, I don`t know what is!!” replied the customer, as he helped his unfortunate companion whose arms were both in slings, into his wheel chair.
New names in the staff room
In the common room the tea and paste sandwiches had been brought in, and some teachers had already begun to indulge, before they went home or went off to school duties. Our intention was to take some, sit in a quiet corner and read the newspapers. Isaac and Arthur often did this and would discuss items of interest, at least for an hour. Just then, a rather large, brown haired woman entered the common room. She made for the sandwiches and cake and was about to occupy one of the armchairs when another, much smaller, woman, whose hair was tinted red, entered. She poured out a beverage from a small bottle, which she had taken from her handbag and saw the first woman. “Hello,” said the large woman holding out her hand in greeting, “Fulta Burstin!” “Filma Glass,” replied the redhead, as they both sat and began their conversation. “The impudence of some of the boys,” Filma said indignantly. “A group of the top class approached in the corridor, just now. They are very beguiling. They engaged me in conversation about exam results. Suddenly, one of them said, “How is your husband, Miss? We hear he got smashed at a party for the Brittle bone disease society.” “Well, just what can one say?” she asked, and sipped her` tonic` water. I noticed her new friend smiling, as we were. “There`s no accounting for taste,” said Fulta. “You have to take everything with a pinch of salt here. That`s what is lacking in these sandwiches.” They became engrossed in the conversation and soon left, obviously to go home, and Isaac noticed an elderly man, dressed in a brown, cotton coat come in, carrying two empty litter bins, which he placed strategically in the room.
“This is Mr Glaze, our caretaker,” he said quietly. “He`s been to a few schools, in his career. He does a good job. He has an unfortunate nickname, however. It`s `Leadless`.” Arthur saw the funny side right away. “It`s got something to do with toilets, hasn`t it? I`ll bet he`s had that name for years. It could only be, ` Leadless Glaze`. What a name to be lumbered with. Apparently, years ago, toilet manufacturers would have the words `leadless glaze` inscribed on the inside of the bowl just below the flush inlet.” The caretaker left the room, oblivious to our conversation, in order to carry on with his job. “I`ve come across several caretakers in my time,” I said. “Some have been nosy and others helpful, but some would like to have been deputy heads. In certain schools, the caretakers have wielded incredible power. They would patrol the schools looking for trouble incurring the wrath of staff and boys alike. In one school, as I walked across the playground to my car, I noticed that the window frames of the building were being painted and I asked the caretaker what type of paint was being used. “Oh, that`s aluminium paint, Mate,” he replied. “Bring me an empty jam jar and I`ll give you some.” This generosity with other people`s property was repeated in another school, but I didn`t take either up on the offer.”
The conversation soon turned to other topics and Isaac scanned through one of the newspapers looking for articles which contained mistakes or humorously written articles.
Then he spotted an article in a local newspaper, entitled `Japanese prisoner of war to be honoured`. “It seemed , to me, odd that a Japanese prisoner of war was mentioned in this paper,” he said, “ and that he was going to be honoured, until I read on and it turned out that the guy wasn`t Japanese, at all, but British. The reporter just hadn`t bothered to think about what he was writing. He was referring to a British soldier who had been captured by the Japanese, in the Second World War. Every day, reporters make mistakes in one way or another, perhaps using the wrong word. Any one would think they were writing school essays, and that they were waiting for somebody to mark them.” “Yes,” said Arthur, “but we all get a good laugh out of their mistakes. Here is another one. This reporter talks about the subject of his article and her husband in this way: `Her and her husband will be taken to court in the following week`. Whatever happened to the word `she`?” “I found an interesting one, which I cut out of a newspaper for you,” I said, taking it from my diary. “It reads: `I and I`s family are going on holiday at the end of this month`.” Arthur broke in.
Hot air balloonists
“Here`s an interesting one,” he said, “about some hot air balloonists who had had an accident. It seems that the four gentlemen in question, one summer evening had taken to the air, when two of them began to argue about a sewage treatment facility in their vicinity, just as they were drifting towards it. These two were sitting on opposite sides of the basket, dangling their legs over the sides, and the argument blossomed into a row just when a sudden gust of wind hit the balloon, causing them to lose balance and they fell off. The journalist quotes one of the other passengers, `They are always at loggerheads about something or other, so it`s just typical of them to fall out over a sewage farm`.”
Supper time again
That evening we entered the dining room for supper. Father Rector said Grace and we sat. Again, he opened the conversation, as the nuns brought in the minestrone soup. Arthur had invited me to sit near the Rector. “Did you gentlemen have a good day out?” he enquired, as he filled his bowl from the tureen, and replaced the ladle. He pushed the tureen in my direction and I filled my bowl. “We did, indeed, thank you Father,” I said. “We went to a fairly new establishment, owned by a former pupil, as it turned out, and our usual, fellow diner put in an appearance.” “So, John,” said Arthur smiling, “are we to understand that you were the mysterious `Doctor`?” “Not quite, but I did know him,” I said.
“What amusing story do you have for us tonight, John?” asked Father Rector, as most of the conversation ceased, so that they could all hear. Quickly, I accessed my memory banks, as Mr Data of Star Fleet fame would say, and I came up with the following. “Well, Father” I said, “some years ago, one evening I was making my way home after a night school session at the Liverpool Polytechnic, when I stopped off at a railway station bar, where I went occasionally for a coffee, to keep me awake for the rest of the journey. A solicitor whom I knew quite well and I were engaged in conversation with the land lord, after a few minutes, when a tired looking traveller, obviously straight off the train, entered. The land lord saw him and greeted him. “Good evening, Sir,” said the landlord, “What would you like to drink?” “That`s awfully good of you, land lord,” said the customer. “As you`re asking, I`ll have a Cognac, please.” This was quickly poured and the man began to sip it. “That will be three pounds, please,” said the land lord, holding out his hand in anticipation, but the man, quickly finishing the glass, countered with, “Now look here, land lord, I distinctly heard you ask me what I would like, which seems like an invitation to me, and so I`m not paying. After all, I only came in here for directions.” The land lord, whose anger was beginning to show, turned to my learned friend and said, “You are a man of the legal profession, Bernard, so could I ask you to adjudicate in this matter, please?” The solicitor, looking thoughtful, leaned one elbow on the counter and turned to both parties. “Well,” he said, “I would help you on this for my usual fee, which is thirty pounds, but I`ll waiver that for several free drinks, this evening.” He paused as the landlord nodded. “I`m sorry to say this, land lord, but I did indeed hear you ask this gentleman what he would like to drink, so that is an invitation. Therefore, it`s only reasonable that he does not pay.” The customer drained the glass and the furious land lord, coming from behind the counter and pointing towards the door, in an angry voice ordered him to vacate the premises and to never return. The traveller exited with the words, “Get out! Get out!” ringing in his ears. Everything settled down and the land lord served my friend the first of his several free drinks. However, the man returned a few minutes later, probably to retrieve the umbrella he had left on the table near the counter, when the landlord saw him. He rushed from behind the counter yet again. We thought he was going to lay into the unfortunate man as he shouted, “I told you never to set foot on my premises again, and yet here you are!” The man, not at all phased by this behaviour and unnoticed by the landlord, picked up the umbrella and said, “Excuse me but I`ve never set foot in here in all my life. I`ve just got off the train.” The land lord, somewhat taken aback, said, “Well, you must have a double.” “Awfully decent of you old chap; this time I`ll go for a Scotch,” he replied. Then he thought better of what he had said and made himself scarce.” All the priests were taken aback with this story, and having been asked for another, I did not wish to disappoint. The main course, pork chops, boiled potatoes and a selection of vegetables, was brought in, and, as we were serving ourselves, I quickly recalled another story.
A trip to Calais
“I could tell you all enjoyed that story, and so here is another,” I continued.” We have a Christian Brothers` school near my home. It has several famous old boys, one of whom is Cardinal Nichols, The Archbishop of Westminster, and many not so famous. This story is about two of these, Connor and Carl. When these two lads were in the Sixth Form, they decided to take a short break in France, in the summer holidays before their final year, so that they could practise their French. They made all the arrangements and set off to Liverpool, from where a train took them to Euston, in London. They made their way to the south coast by underground and surface train and crossed to Calais on the ferry. Having booked into their hotel, they asked where they could get a decent meal, and one of the women at reception directed them to a nearby establishment, `Le Café de la Bedoyere`. They walked the short distance and entered. There was an elderly woman, English, as it happened, wearing a dark grey trouser suit, sitting at a table in the middle of the room, sipping some white wine, glancing at a copy of The Times which she had brought from London, and a man in one corner, reading an English newspaper, a large beer in front of him. The waiter, Monsieur Huchet Hublot, balding and plump, wearing a striped apron similar to that worn by butchers, came out from behind his counter to greet them, stroking his moustache as he approached. “Ah, bonjour,” [In France they all start with `ah` before some words, and especially before `oui`] he said, holding out his hand. “Connor and Carl raised their hands high in the air, and to show off what they had learned in the French lesson from their teacher, Mr Gill, aka `Mac` because of the Columbo style raincoat he wore, said “Tape m`en cinq!”[Give me five] Each slapped the astonished waiter`s hand. Somewhat surprised by this greeting, and realising that the youths were from England, he decided to try out some English of his own. “Would yew lake zis table by ze window?” he asked and waited while they sat down. Carl, in a funny mood because of all the excitement said, “Garkon, le menu, por favor.” Mr Hublot raised his eyes toward the ceiling, realising that these were going to be two difficult customers. He put two menus on their table and returned to his counter, a place of refuge for him at times. Almost at once, having seen the words soupe and poulet on the menu, Carl called out, “Oi, garkon, deux soups au pulette, bitte.” Hublot prepared the soup in the microwave and within minutes placed the bowls on the table, being careful not to scald the tips of his thumbs. He turned to write up the bill. “Have you got that plastic fly on yer, Connor, lah?” whispered Carl. “We might get this meal for free.” Connor popped the fly into the soup and stirred it around with his spoon. His friend nudged him, and finished off his own soup. “Dites donc,[ I say] Monsieur,” said Connor changing tack, “ Il y a un mouche dans ma soupe!”
Grim faced, the waiter approached, observed the fly floating on the surface of the soup and said, “M`sieu, eet ees not un mouche but une mouche. Eeet is feminine!” “My goodness me”,said the elderly woman, at once. “What good eyesight you people have.” The youths were nonplussed by this grammatical correctness, and Mr Hublot, feeling embarrassed by the woman`s comment, decided to embarrass her.
“What would you like to eat, Madame?” he asked. “Two ham sandwiches, please, with mustard, on brown bread,” she replied. In the kitchen, the waiter opened the fridge. There was a large piece of ham there. He was still incensed by what had just taken place and was out for revenge. He returned to the table and said, “I am sorry, Madame, but there ees no more `am. We do `ave tongue, however.” The smirk disappeared from the woman`s face as she said indignantly, “I certainly do not wish to eat anything that has been in the mouth of an animal. How dare you!” “In zat case, Madame, could I offer you two boiled eggs, with brown toast?” Monsieur Hublot asked. “That would be perfectly acceptable,” she said, as the smug waiter returned to the kitchen. The youths, realising what the woman had said and ordered, did not say anything untoward and settled down, overcome by fatigue and hunger. They spoke politely to Hublot when he brought in the meal that they eventually ordered, giving him a decent tip before leaving the café. Before they left, the man in the corner introduced himself as Monsieur Gibier, and he came over to say how much he had enjoyed the content of the conversation. He found out that the lads would be in Calais for a couple of days and offered to show them around promising to speak English properly, for their benefit. He arranged to meet them at the café the following day. Over breakfast he told them he was going to visit his brother, a miser by all accounts, whom he had not seen for at least twenty years and invited them along. They travelled by bus for an hour to a small village, where they alighted. After walking for some minutes, they arrived at a rundown house, standing in a neglected garden, and in need of a friendly lawn care expert. Monsieur Gibier knocked on the door, there being no evidence of an electric bell push. All was quiet for some minutes. “He is still asleep,” said Gibier, and then they heard the sound of a door closing somewhere in the house. The front door was unlocked and opened slowly. A thin, bald man, a long, grey beard reaching as far as his belt, stood in the door way. [For the youths` benefit, and for practice, M. Gibier spoke in English to his brother] `Allo, Giles. It is I, Albert, your brother. Why do you `ave such a long beard?” “Well,” he replied, “you took the last razor blade with you.”
Father Donohue has the last word
Just then, Father Donohue spoke up. “Marvellous stories you bring to the table,” he said, “always good to hear them. I would like to contribute one of mine. I witnessed this after Mass one evening, some time ago. The deacon, Rev Almond, was cleaning the communion vessels in the sacristy when a parishioner approached to speak to him. The deacon told him to go and wait, rather abruptly, I thought. The parishioner went, but thought better of waiting. Taking my life into my hands, so to speak, I decided to say something. “You were a bit harsh with that gentleman, were you not?” I said. “I thought you were a patient, considerate man, as befits your calling, and as I have witnessed on many occasions, especially while at Mass.” The deacon replied, very tersely, “Oh, that`s just my altar ego, Father.”
Father Rector complimented the priest for his contribution and said, “I think Father Moon has something to tell us.” Father Moon, in his early sixties, said, “Thank you, Father. Well, gentlemen, Father Rector is not the only one to have had a court experience. Just recently, I`ve been following a case at the Old Bailey, in the press, and decided to go in on the last day of the trial. Mr Justice Standing was presiding. I got into the rather full court room for the afternoon session. Just to fill you in on the details. One Hugh McCue, a man of good standing by all accounts, was accused by four women of embezzlement and of defrauding each of them. The judge sat for the afternoon session and addressed the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, in a sombre and serious voice, “ you have all heard the evidence presented before you by both counsels, about how the four women, known by the epithet `the four hens` in their circle of friends for their gossip, were swindled out of their assets, by Mister McCue. It became clear that they set out to vilify him for the purpose of humiliating him and to gain a substantial amount of money from the judgement of the court. Much has been said about the defendant`s good character and probity, and how unlikely it would be for him to steal anything, let alone the money of these women, whom, he says, he had never known before the trial began. Therefore, I feel it incumbent upon me to advise you to ignore the four hens` sick evidence as being unreliable and unsafe, and to return a verdict of `not guilty`.” Father Moon finished his story. “Within the hour a verdict of `not guilty` was returned,” he said. From my end of the table, I could see Father Moon beam, as the others showed their appreciation of this story. “I didn`t wish to eclipse anybody with my story,” he said, softly..
Then, we stood to say Grace. As it was now quite late we went to our rooms and to observe the Grand Silence.
The next morning came all too soon, and after Mass I met up with my two comrades in arms for breakfast. “We will see you to your car,” said Isaac, when we had finished, “at about ten thirty?” “That will be fine,” said Arthur. “We will go and work out the winners of the joke contest and post the results on the notice board in the main corridor.” We sorted through the jokes one more time. “In many respects,” said Arthur, “the boys all did very well.” “Yes, I agree,” I said. “I think they should all win, and share the prize. After all they did show great courage standing up to tell those jokes in front of their peers.” I placed a twenty pound note on the table. “Put that towards the prize, Arthur,” I said. “Thanks for that,” he said, “that will mean a great deal to the boys. Let`s go to the staffroom for some coffee and then we will see you off.”