Hello, again Readers. I venture to say `readers` as several more people have told me that they have looked at the website. So, welcome to you all.
Before you have a look at this season`s harvest, I thought I would pay tribute to a priest I met at Saint Joseph`s church, when I was about 15. Monsignor Redmond, the parish priest, suggested I serve Mass for a visiting priest, who turned out to be Father Charlie Burns. His family came from the Paisley Diocese, and he had been sent to work in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, the Secret Vatican Archives.
He visited Saint Joseph`s whenever he could. His parents lived nearby, because his father had a job with one of the Liverpool shipping lines.
Charlie spent his career in Rome, and soon became a Monsignor. Earlier this year, as a reward for all his work, His Holiness, Benedict XVI made him a Canon of Saint Peter`s Basilica. You can find a great deal more on the Vatican Website if you wish. Just type in Monsignor Charles Burns.
A few years ago, he was made an OBE, and just after he retired, he was given more work to do, among which is lecturing on Diplomacy to students at the Vatican University.
In his latest letter, he asked for prayers and so, because he came to say Mass in this parish in the sixties, I invite you to offer some for him as well.
Now, one of these new readers, not yet tuned in to The Field of Corn, nor likely to be, said to me, "I`ve looked at your website and I think you have a problem.”(It turns out that he has a problem of his own with his inability to make words work for him.)
"Which problem?" I asked.
"Well, this problem of using words and making them fit in with what you want to say," he said, rather pompously, without realising that nearly all of us do just that when we are speaking or writing. I feel that he needs to go on another training course. Just think, he would never have had a mention on this website, if he had not spoken to me. Once he even had the temerity to take me to “one side,” as he put it, ”to put me right on one or two things.”
He told me never to believe in what was printed in The Daily Telegraph. (I hasten to add, at this point, that he had already told me of his involvement in unions when he was in work, and so, he was probably trying to do a little `evangelising`, even though he had been retired for many years.) I feel someone should take him aside and tell him not to believe in all he reads on this website.
However, I did not need him to tell me not to believe in all I read in The Daily Telegraph, for, many years ago, I used to travel to work passing the Liver Buildings, and I could see, from there, the Camel Laird ship yards. In the dock, there lay a new fleet auxiliary, fresh in from Belfast, where it had just been built. It was there for some weeks. The Daily Telegraph, however, reported that this ship was in the Irish Sea, undergoing sea trials, and so you can see I didn`t need this bloke to tell me what I should believe, when I read a newspaper, especially one not of his choice.
It is interesting, though, what is written in newspapers. Our local one mentions a 58 year old, local man who has been shopping at Sainsbury`s
“all his life”. Sainsbury`s Crosby store was not built that long ago, and I did wonder if the man had been actively “shopping” since he had been born. (Should we believe that?) Mind you, when I see these “baby on board” signs in the rear windows of cars, I wonder if the owners actually allow their offspring to participate in the `board meetings` of their firms?
Talking of training courses brings me to another episode of my time in schools, before I get onto my next intriguing story, which I trust you will like.
of some fifty years, dressed in a dark blue suit and a red tie. He was of wide build, going bald, and wearing glasses which the Two Ronnies would have favoured. The charges were read out as the man, Arnie `Croaker` Chubb, office clerk, stood smirking in the Dock. Croaker was his nickname, not because of his surname being that of a fish, but because whenever he was sentenced in court, he would feign a heart attack, giving the impression that he was about to leave this world for the next.
Just before the charges were read out, Mr Pollock leaned forward and spoke to Chubb. I never thought I would hear the interchange that followed. Pollock opened. “Have you been up before me, my man?” he asked, purely for information. It was obvious that he hadn`t, for he would have thought twice before asking him such a question.
The reply came back without delay. “I dunno, Yerroner. What time de yew gerrup?” A titter ran round the room.
The Magistrate sat back in his chair, amazed at the man`s response. ”The Court can do without your flippant comments,” he said, sounding angry, as he tried to ignore the chuckles from those present. ” I was only trying to put you at your ease, because your face seems familiar,” continued Pollock.
“It should do, Yerronner, I used to be a debt collector,” came back the reply. It was obvious that Croaker was an old hand at this sort of repartee, but did not know when to stop. Mr Pollock called for silence and order in the Court, as everyone had burst out laughing. Croaker`s solicitor waved a forefinger and shook his head in warning, at his client.
“I won`t warn you again,” Pollock said harshly, and the look on Croaker`s face told us he had got the message. When all was quiet, the Magistrate had the charges read out.
It turned out that Chubb was a prolific shoplifter, somebody who did it for a hobby. The arresting officer, Sergeant Constable, told us what had happened. “Your Honour,” he said, ”during our enquiries, we discovered that, each month, Arnie Chubb would attend the Shuropodist`s practice in Green Lane, West Derby, in order to have his toenails cut and his ingrowing ones attended to, before making his way, by bus, to the city centre where he would proceed to carry out his shoplifting sprees. We found that his flat was full of goods stolen over a long period. A lot of it was luggage. He has asked for thirty other cases to be taken into account.”
Mr Pollock leaned forward, having listened to what had been said and asked Mr Ford, of Brad Ford and Bing Lee, solicitor for the defendant, if he wished to say anything on behalf of his client. Mr Ford stood and said, “I hope this does not sound too flippant, Sir, but he does bring in a regular income, for my firm. There`s not much more I can add, other than he needs the help of the Court. Somebody needs to get him some medical help.”
As the solicitor sat, Pollock ordered Chubb to rise, and then he leaned on one elbow and stared at him, in silence, as if thinking what to say next. But he knew, and said, ”Mr Chubb, it is clear from what the arresting officer has told the court, about your frequent trips to the podiatrist,( he had used this word so as not to contradict the Sergeant`s mispronunciation,) prior to your raids to acquire as many articles from the shops as possible, that you are something of a clipped toe maniac.”
He paused for effect and because some of the public could not hold back their laughter. Then, he continued, ”Before I pass sentence, I want some reports carried out. We will continue in one week`s time.” For once, too flabbergasted for words, Croaker did not live up to his name. The Magistrate stood, bowed and left the Court, as did everyone else, because it was the end of the morning session.
As we left, I noticed the sergeant telling Croaker to return the Bible to the clerk`s table.
As we returned to school, we went past TJ Hughes` premises, and I remarked to Miss Rodd, that the boys acquired the Christmas presents for the Staff from that store, more than others. ”Chubbs in the making,” she said. ”In future, I`ll make sure that any articles they offer me have a receipt.”
“Fortunately, I`m not as popular as other members of staff, as the boys don`t give me presents,” I said.
“Maybe you are more popular than you think,” she replied. ”When the boys hand over those stolen ties, who knows their reasoning? They have implicated those teachers in their crime, because they, too, are handling stolen goods and are liable to arrest. Worth thinking about it. I will. I wouldn`t want to get caught,” she said with a grin, holding an imaginary rod and moving her other hand in a turning motion, as an angler would when trying to reel in a catch.
Now, Colomendy is a permanent camp frequented by Liverpool schools. It is near Mold, in North Wales, and I went there with my form and another, sixty thirteen year old boys in all, accompanied by several teachers. The boys all visited Nitty Nora, before they left. I stayed for the weekend, returning late on Sunday evening, to be ready for school the next day, and leaving the group at the camp.
On the Wednesday, I was asked if
I had seen the Head. Another teacher said that he had gone to Colomendy, and that he had taken the cane with him. It turned out that there had been an outbreak of shoplifting in Ruthin, and our pupils were the `crime wave`. The following week, I found out from my form what had happened.
Mister `Justice` Woodward
Every one of the boys was caned by Mr Woodward, I was told, even those who had been bullied into the shoplifting.
One of the boys told me that the police inspector had cornered several boys near a famous store, and had told them to raise the bottoms of their trouser legs.
One of the less trustworthy boys squared up to him and said, ”I won`t.” The inspector`s response was to bend down and lift the bottom of the boy`s trouser leg. There, stuffed down the boy`s sock were items which had been taken from the store.
The boys were all lucky that Mr Woodward was allowed by the police to take care of the matter, himself. They were not interested in prosecuting sixty boys. Just think, that incident could have disqualified any of the boys from standing in the present day elections for the job of Police Commissioner, if they had been arrested and charged, back then.
One of the parents visited the school about the matter, concerned about the effect the shoplifting would have on his son`s future. When the Head had explained how he had kept the police out of the matter and used the cane, the parent left, satisfied that the Head was a caring man, with the best interests of the child at heart. The parent was heard to say, ”He`s a real belter, that Mr Woodyard.”
The Lodge Procession
Mr Woodward would often mix his own brand of humour with his disciplinarian side. As an example, I mention July 12. This day, each year, saw an Orange Lodge procession, which went right past the school.
At assembly, Mr Woodward would warn the boys to stay away from the large classroom windows which overlooked the street, and waved a very long cane in front of him-self as a warning.
His performance never did have the intended effect, however, as I was to find out. One year, I had the unexpected privilege of having a free period while the procession walked past. I didn`t waste the opportunity, always on the lookout for an amusing incident to turn into a story. During my travels along the wooden floored corridors, (no carpeted floors in those days), as I rounded a corner, I nearly ran into Woody, who was lurking outside one of the classrooms, in the gloom, surveying the antics of those boys who had ignored all his warnings to stay away from the windows. It was not the only classroom where this behaviour was going on, as I had perceived in my journey along the other corridors. The boys had been agitated all morning, waiting in anticipation for that first note on the flute, or the first drum beat they could hear.
Woody didn`t enter the room but shuffled off along the corridor, chuckling to himself, holding the cane behind his back. As he left the corridor, I approached the classroom and, standing away from the door, so as not to be seen, I looked into the room, and observed the scene.
Most of the boys had climbed onto the desks and radiators to get a better view. ”There`s Piggy,” shouted one. His friend was calling out the skit name of yet another, poignantly poking his fingers through the window.
And so the scene unfolded, as the procession went by, with this throng of boys hanging off the windows, with the intention of ridiculing all the ones they recognised in the procession.
I was so engrossed by the scene in front of me I did not hear Woody returning and I jumped as he spoke quietly in my ear. “Im making the most of this. I`ll not be seeing the likes of it again.” He walked off before I could reply. He was to retire at the end of that term.
I was in the Staff Common Room on another occasion. Madame Pamplemousse, the French Assistant, a small, plump, grey haired woman in her fifties, was sitting at the large table, marking some exercise books, when Vic Crossman came in and sat in an armchair.
This small, elderly Welshman, not far off retirement, sipped from the mug of tea which he had brought with him. Half term holiday was to be the next week. “I suppose you`ll be going back to France for a dirty weekend, will you, Christine?” Vic started, grinning. Christine reacted quickly. “A dirty weekend, a dirty weekend…. I like that!” she spluttered, stubbing out her Camel in the ashtray. I stood up and said, “I`m not talking to a person who admits to liking a dirty weekend.” I left the room. I always wondered why she never spoke to me again. Probably, because she did not see any humour in my reaction.
That incident reminded me of the male, French assistant in the school prior to that one. Monsieur Alois Huchet Couvercle had arrived in the staff room, one day, complaining about the behaviour of the thirteen year olds in his class. “Why do you think there was a problem, Alois?” I asked, and in his best English, he replied, ”I was talking to the boys behind.” (apostrophe not missed here, because that`s what he meant, but I didn`t.)”It`s not surprising you were having trouble if you were talking to a boy`s behind,” I said. When I had explained that he should have said,” I was talking to the boys at the back of the class, rather than what he did say, he was quite amused, and we were both sure he would never make that mistake again.
Support Service and Saint Bartolph`s
Years later, I was working directly for the Local Authority, in the Support Service, and could be sent into schools where there was a need. On one occasion, I was sent to cover for teacher absences at Saint Bartolph`s, now, all these years later. a thriving sports academy for boys. It had been kept single-sex to cut down on the competition from the girls, because the powers that be thought that they might outshine the boys, causing more trouble than enough.
That sunny autumn morning, I got out of the car and made my way across the already crowded car park, saturated with large four wheel drives, Range Rovers, Nissans and the like, and entered the main building in search of "RECEPTION". At the open window, I announced my arrival, and the lady sitting at a computer said, "Sign in, please, and then come into the office.” Then, ”If you wouldn`t mind," almost as an afterthought.
Once inside, I encountered a clean shaven, burley, balding man, taller than myself, wearing a light blue tracksuit, which had seen better days. This bore the badge of the owner`s Teacher Training College, and the words SPINKHILL`S FINEST` across the shoulders. He was in his early fifties.
"I`m Charlie, the First Deputy Head, in charge of Sports and Discipline," he beamed, displaying a mouth full of glossy white teeth interspersed with gold fillings and one or two crowns, the result of war damage in numerous rugby matches and the odd bout in the boxing ring. "If you come with me, I will show you round and we can share a cup of coffee in my office. Not literally share, of course," he added.
During the course of several minutes on the way to his office, we stopped off at the by now empty staff room, and had some encounters in the corridors with teachers who kept referring to Charlie as `Corky`, and several boys, who, as soon as they had passed by, made a popping noise with their mouths: they inserted their forefinger and brought it out making a well-practised "POP”. The reason for all this behaviour was soon to be made clear.
All at once, Charlie shouted at a dark haired, medium sized boy, about thirteen years old, who had just come in through the main entrance. ”You, boy, come here,” he commanded, in his best James Robertson Justice voice, who, for those who don`t know, was a bearded, resonant voiced actor in British films of the fifties and sixties.
“Yes, Sir, what can I do for you, sir?” he asked ingratiatingly, as he scurried over.
“You should have been here at ten to nine, boy,” the Deputy said in a calmer and quieter manner.
“Why, Sir, what happened?” he asked impudently, with that grin that teachers hate so much.
“I`ll add that remark to your detention list, Fish,” said Charlie.” Why did you not arrive here on time?”
Now, Fish was one of those boys who did not know which side his bread was buttered, and this time he went a little too far.
“I got up late, Sir,” continued the boy.
“I`m sure we can all see that,” Charlie said, taking Fish`s bait, without realising that the youngster was leading him into a trap. ”Why did you get up late?” he snarled, as he gritted his teeth.
“I wanted to put my breakfast on it, of course, Sir. Did you think I would have it in a `bowl`?” asked Fish cheekily, emphasising the word `bowl`. “Get it, Sir?” he continued. “Fish… bowl?”
I thought that Charlie`s reaction would go off the scale but I was to be proved wrong, and by the way he responded, I could tell that Charlie had been on a course as he went very quiet. “Get to your first lesson, Fish,” he ordered,” I`ll deal with you at break time, when I`ve had a chance to ring your parents. I trust I will `catch` them at home?” putting an emphasis on `catch`.
The boy apologised at that point, turned on his heel, and sped off in the direction of his classroom, muttering, ”Oh, ha, ha, ha,” for Charlie`s fish joke. As he disappeared round a corner we heard a loud “POP”, some cheering from a room full of boys and a classroom door being closed.
“I`m just about ready for that cup of coffee,” said Charlie.” You will probably have Fish in one of your classes.”
“I would prefer to have fish for lunch,” I replied,” preferably in the canteen.”
“Oh, don`t you start,” said Charlie, half grinning, as he entered his office. I noticed Charlie`s surname on the door. It was `Champagne`. I had seen it before, on some correspondence from a well-known magazine`s Prize Draw office.
On the floor, near the door, was a rather old, brown leather football, the sort which had a bladder in it. A large, very battered photo of Frank Sinatra, wearing a hat, was glued to the ball.
Conversation and Information
“I use this to vent my frustration,” said Charlie, tapping the ball lightly with the toe of his trainer, just to get it into position. Then he booted it with all his might. The ball took off and disappeared through the open window. The kick activated an internal music box, the kind you find in greetings cards. I could just make out the jingle. It was Old Blue Eyes, himself, singing, “I get a kick from Champagne.”
“Oh, well played,” I said enthusiastically. ”From Cole Porter`s `I Get a Kick Out of You`?,” I continued. ” I listen to David Jacobs` Sunday evening Radio 2 programme, which features songs and music from stage and screen.”
“That`s right” said Charlie, as he activated the kettle and prepared the coffee cups. ”Sit down, and I`ll explain all the “popping” noises from the boys and the `Corky` comment.
As we sat, sipping the almost boiling, black coffee, because the milk had gone sour, the Deputy explained. “The actual name `Charlie` was an invention of my father`s. He was a humorous man, and decided on my name before anybody could beat him to it, and because he had liked the song, `Champagne Charlie is me name`.
As for `Corky`, well, that`s a different story. We were at a well- oiled staff do, here, one Christmas, and I was invited to open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate my promotion to Deputy. Well, the bottle refused to open at first, and it took some persuasion. Suddenly, the cork shot out with a `BANG!`, and hit the `departing` deputy full in the forehead, rendering him unconscious. And so, the staff began calling me Corky, and when the boys found out, they came up with the idea of causing that `POPPING` noise. When I found that jingle in a greetings card I fixed it inside the football. Quite apt, don`t you think?”
Charlie handed over my timetable and class lists and gave me a few minutes to read them. ”You will find Fish in one of your lessons, Charlie said. ” That`s got nothing to do with his real name, by the way. That name is Zander. Alex Zander. The parents are a couple of Finns from Helsinki. Fish acquired his nickname one day when the boys were told by the Head that they could wear their `own` clothes, provided they paid fifty pence each, into the School Fund. Fish came in wearing a dark blue, herring bone suit and a yellow kipper tie. The name started then. Aptly so, because nobody knew, then, that a zander is a fish. It was a staff member`s idea. But I do object to the Head`s use of the words, ”their own clothes”. It leads to confusion, because several boys told me they thought that their uniforms belonged to the Head, himself.”
Mr Thrasher, a hard man if ever there was.
While I was trying to take all this in, Corky suggested we go and meet the head teacher, James Thrasher. I got my briefcase and, as we walked along the freshly painted corridors, we went past the dining room (yes, this was `back in the day` before they were renamed `canteens`), towards the Head`s office.
We turned down yet another corridor and found a pupil standing outside a classroom, next to an outside door which was open. The boy had taken off his shoes and socks and was standing just next to the open door. ”Why are you standing there?” asked Charlie, no doubt expecting another silly reply. The boy stared at him, seemingly trying to work out a good response.
He coughed, as he cleared his throat, took out his chewing gum, and said, ”Miss Commer was teaching us Engish, Sir, and I kept answering her questions, and she said I was being too enthusiastic and that I should give some of the other boys a chance to answer the questions, Sir, and…”
“Stop,” interrupted Charlie.” Take a breath.” The boy obeyed. “This is the first time I have found you outside somebody`s room. Now, why are you standing bare foot in the open doorway?”
“Miss Commer told me to go and cool my heels, Sir,” was the response.
“I must remember what I learned on the course,” muttered Charlie, and then, ”I repeat, Spratt, why were you sent out?”
“Well, Miss had just explained what an aerodrome was and then asked if any of us knew what a hippodrome was, and I said it was an airfield where large African animals landed their aircraft, Sir.” He paused and then said,” She told me to get out, because all the boys burst out laughing, and I did.”
Charlie wrote the boy`s name in his detention book, told him to return to his lesson, and we continued on our way. “I would have thought that Miss Commer would make anyone pause,” said Charlie. After a few moments, he said, ”But then who pays any attention to the Commers, anymore?”
Charlie told me that when the Head had started in his present position, twenty years before. He had been interrupted by some boys during his first full assembly, but he didn`t shout and bawl and become enraged. Mr Thrasher simply left the assembly hall and returned with a strap, which had been made by a special firm, ”FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES”, from old conveyor belt material.
He went up on the stage, again, and displayed the strap to all the boys. ”I will give one chance for the boy, or boys concerned, who broke that stink bomb, to come forward,” he said quietly but menacingly. One of the deputies had already taken charge of its removal, while the Head was out, and it had been cleared up.
The Head looked deliberately at his watch, and said,”Well, you have had your chance.” Then, very calmly and deliberately, he walked down from the stage, and began administering the strap, one stroke to each boy, except the Sixth Formers, who were standing at the back. Row by row, he went to the back of the hall and returned to the front, trying hard not to seem out of breath. He outlined what he expected from all the boys and then dismissed them, except for the Sixth Form.
Corky went quiet, and continued, ”He didn`t half deliver a mighty whack in those days. I can still feel it now. I never misbehaved after that, and his reputation has remained until today. Of course, corporal punishment is banned now, but he has developed other methods, equally effective over the years, and we all play our part.”
Corky turned to me and said sincerely, “Incidentally, I had nothing to do with the stink bomb. One of the Sixth Formers had rolled it from the back of the hall, and an unfortunate boy, near the front, stood on it, innocently. How it had manoeuvred itself `past` all those feet, will never be known. He paused, as if the answer had just struck him. “Unless, of course…. All were in on the secret.”
Corky told me, later, that Gudgeon, the Sixth Former who had caused the incident, owned up to the Head, while they were still in the hall and asked if he could apologise to the whole school. This was arranged for the next morning, but, unbeknown to the culprit, other Sixth Formers later asked if they could bombard him with bad fruit, in front of the school, for not owning up to such a rotten trick. The Head complied with all this, on the understanding that they would clear up the mess. Gudgeon left the school at his own request, shortly after, and joined the Army. The incident was never mentioned again.”
Before he could continue, we arrived at the Head`s Office and entered. The Deputy asked the Secretary if Mr Thrasher, the Head, could see us both and, after her nod, we went in. Introductions over, we all sat down while the Head, a small but well-kept man, just over sixty, chatted informally about the school, mentioning how the majority of the boys were `no angels` (a worn out phrase used by many heads who were getting on and who were well worn themselves), but that he had the backing of most of the parents.
A diverting diversion
The meeting ended just before the morning break, and Corky took me to the Staff Common Room. This time we passed the Music Block. An innocent looking boy, properly dressed in his uniform, white shirt and black and red tie, along with a black blazer and black trousers, much the same as several other schools in the district, was standing outside the door, gazing ahead. He stood up straight as we approached. Corky sighed out loud, warning the boy that he was annoyed with him.
“Didn`t I find you here some days ago, Wrong?” he asked. “And didn`t I have to rebuke you for something then?” he continued, leaning right into the boy`s face, trying to intimidate, but not succeeding. ”Sir, you did, Sir,” Wrong replied, still staring straight ahead, sounding very like an American Marine talking to his officer. The boy had obviously seen too many Vietnam war- movies.
“And what did you get sent out for, last time?” asked Corky.
“Sir, Miss Harper asked us what was a two bar rest and I said they were two pubs where Mr Stave, the other Music teacher, stopped off after lunch.”
I bit my lip, trying hard not to laugh, as Corky continued with his questions. “And why did Miss Harpie, I mean Miss Harper, send you out today, Lad?” he enquired.
“It was too easy, Sir,” replied Wrong. “Miss always asks the daftest questions. I mean, I know she means well, but when she asked us to tell her about, Rigoletto, I said that it was an opera about worms in a Cornetto. Get it, Sir? Wriggling in ice cream? Well, the class just fell about, calling out, ”Nice one,” and “I`ll have a cornet.” “Let`s have some more.” That`s when she threw me out, Sir.
“A wafer-thin defence, I don`t think,” muttered Corky, as he wrote some `notes`(those to the tune of a certain ice-cream advert) on his pad and told Wrong to go and wait by his office.
The sugar that soured the morning
Eventually, we arrived at the Common Room, and, having pushed our way through the crowd of boys outside, entered. It was a large room, big enough to house all the staff, for breaks and staff meetings. We were among the first in, and got the tea while it was still boiling hot and fresh.
”We used to have a terrible problem with the tea, said Corky. ” One well-meaning old fellow, nearing retirement, had put himself in charge of making the tea, some years ago. He would activate the urn twenty minutes before break and leave it to heat up. However, the water never reached boiling point, and so the late arrivals got only warm tea. The urn was always full to the brim and would have needed several hours to heat up, but he could never understand this, even though he was told every day. Since he retired, somebody who understands the principles looks after the urn and nobody suffers.”
I ventured into the small kitchen which housed the crockery, cutlery and a fridge. There was a shelf with two jars of coffee and a few packets of tea and a nearly empty sugar packet, standing alongside.
A hand written notice, written by an irate cleaner, hung over the sink, outlining that it was not her job to clear up “the disgusting mess, left every evening by unknown teachers in the sink.” (If you were so inclined, you could get different meanings from this sentence, depending on how you punctuated it.)
“We`ll sit over here,” said Corky, plonking himself into an armchair, when I came back into the larger room. I followed suit, and asked, ”Don`t you have any of those teachers who have claimed a special chair, over the years, and who cause trouble if anybody else uses it?”
“Oh, eh, no. Not anymore,” replied Corky, seeming surprised that anyone should ask. ”We had a few old timers who did, but there were so many complaints that a vote was taken to ban the practice. When one young man proposed that the seat claimants should pay termly rental into the staff fund, the practice soon stopped.”
The room quickly filled up with people and noise. Children knocked on the door wanting to see various teachers and Corky introduced me to various ones, especially those in whose departments I would be working.
Suddenly, May, a small, fragile looking woman, one of the older teachers, called out in a loud voice, that she knew who had been using her sugar, and that it would be right for `him` to pay her for it. Not many paid that much attention and got on with their conversations, but the culprit noticed. He turned out to be a pompous, frizzy haired art teacher, known as Fay Sake by the boys. He came over to her to say that the coffee and sugar were there on the shelf for all to use, and if she was so particular, she shouldn`t leave it there. He shook his head over his shoulder as he spun on his heel, and left the room.
May was somewhat taken aback by all this, but was soon joined by her friends. One of the women complained that her coffee was gradually pilfered over the weeks, and I went over to suggest how to stop the theft. ”If you really want to stop it being taken,” I suggested,” you need to do something drastic. You could get a new jar, take some coffee out and fill it up with gravy granules, being careful to replace and glue the golden cardboard before screwing on the top. Shake the jar and leave for the thief`s comeuppance. And, as for the sugar. Well, you could get a fresh packet and mix in some liver salts.”
“Oh, I could not do either of those things,” said May with a grin,” I might poison someone.”
That afternoon, one of the Art teachers had to leave early, after being violently ill in the Common Room, giving me the chance to draw on my cartooning skills, as I had to cover for him, also.
Before the end of Break, Charlie took me to the classroom where I was to teach some English. I always liked to be early, so as to have the advantage. The boys lined up in the corridor, quietly, wondering what I would be like. I invited them in, and I saw Fish, near the end of the queue. I noticed how he avoided eye contact as he went to his `plaice`.
(It must be noted here that I never apologise for my puns, only others`.)During the lesson, I avoided using any fish puns, as I realised that Fish must be sick to the gills, by now, with such comment. Needless to say, the time went swimmingly, as I kept the boys occupied.
A few minutes into the lesson, one of the boys raised his hand and I asked what he wanted. “Please, Sir,” he intoned, “You haven`t told us who you are.” He paused, waiting for an answer, as I took out a fresh piece of white chalk from a plastic bag, which was inside my brief case.
Another piped up. “Yes, Sir, what`s your name?”
“That`s right,” I replied, “Mr Watts. But how could you know that? I never told you.”
Yet another asked,”Are you a `standin` teacher?”
I resumed my seat and replied,”Er, no. Can`t you see I am a `sittin` teacher?”
Having tried out this ploy on other occasions, I realised that things could get out of hand, and I stood, chalk in hand. “Clearly, you are all as eager to find out about me as I am about you,” I said. I wrote on the board,` Mister I. Seymour- Views`, and moved away so that all could see the name, only to be questioned yet again because they could not believe that this was my name. Eventually, the class believed me and we got on with the lesson.
“Eenglish” as she is misunderstood
One of the boys near the front was keen to tell me his name. ”I`m Finn, Sir,” he said, ”and my Dad`s name is Adolf.” It appeared that this was a well worked out routine of his, and I wrote his father`s names on the board, “Adolf Finn.” I drew a picture of the animal next to the words.
'I suppose you didn`t want to be left out of the rest of the sea life in this aquarium,” I said.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Finn, looking slightly bemused.
“Just the ramblings of an ageing man,” I replied.
As part of the lesson, I wrote several English words on the board, and we discussed the meaning of each one. These were the words: Aftermath, disparate, euphoria, tirelessly, cruets. Then, I told the boys to write sentences, which included each word from the board, to prove that they had understood them. It was then, that they displayed their sense of humour.
The boys were all eager to show me what they had come up with, and so I began.
“Who can tell me what`s `aftermath`? I asked. Fish raised his hand and immediately he replied,” French, Sir.”
Raucous laughter broke out around the room, but quickly subsided, as everybody had invented his own joke about the words and all were eager to be heard.
Suddenly, the door was flung open, and one of the Year Heads burst in. He meant business, and, without realising used one of the words from the board. ” Sorry to intrude, Sir,” he said,” but there`s an incident to deal with, which requires my taking some boys from your class.”
Before I could object, he spun on his heel, (a growing practice in that school), pointed to some boys and said,” You four, `ere, get down to my office. I`ll teach you to swear.” He held the door open as they exited. I heard Fish mutter to one of his friends, “I wish I was going with them: I could do with a lesson in swearing.”
The use of English
After this attack of rudeness, about which I complained later, there was time to hear from some of the other boys.
It should be noted here that the school was plagued with `skit names`, of which many of the boys were very proud, although they bitterly complained if such a name was used against them. This form had taken animals for its theme, and when the first volunteer stood to read out his sentence, there were murmurs of `giraffe`, possibly because of the boy`s long neck.
Probably because one of his taunters was nicknamed `Polly`, Giraffe read out, ”When we went to the zoo the keeper told us to keep our hands out of the birds` cages, as “Dis parate bites off boys` fingers.” My thought was more that the keeper was concerned about the parrots being stolen, as had happened when I had accompanied another school to the zoo.
Then Crocodile volunteered. ”Here`s my one, Sir,” he said. ”I was on a day out with me Da and his brothers, in Southport. On the way back, we drove over some broken bottles, which burst all the tyres. So we had to get out and push. Da told me Ma that we had driven `tirelessly` all the way home.”
Looking at my watch, I saw that we had time for one more sentence and a quick story from me. “Who has a sentence using the word, `cruet`?” I asked.
The boys turned, as one, to hear from Richardson-Owen, the tallest boy of thirteen, whom I had ever come across. He stayed sitting, as he read out, “On the side table near the altar, in our church, there are two curates, one is full of wine and the other is full of water.”
It was pointless telling him that he had misread the intended word.
Then, when they had settled, I told them about two Anglican bishops at a conference, who decided to go out to the zoo for the afternoon. Having bought their ice-creams, they sat on a bench near the parrot cage. A few squawks broke out, aimed at Polly, but quickly subsided. Then, I began.
“An African Grey parrot was talking quietly with a rooster, which was sitting in his own cage, nearby. After listening to the conversation, while they consumed their ices, the clergymen approached the parrot`s cage, and one of them said to the parrot, ”How marvellous! We must commend you. For the last ten minutes we listened to your conversation, noting your command of the English language, and how not one bad word was uttered by your beak.”
“Well,” said the African Grey, in his best Oxford accent, (obviously a keen admirer of Inspector Morse,) “You won`t be surprised to know, I leave all the foul language to the rooster.”
The boys had left the room before the bell had finished ringing, it was that sort of school.
Although I preferred eating sandwiches in the Common Room, on occasion, I would try out what was on offer in the ”canteen.” However, I always kept my eyes open, ever since the day when I was a Prefect in a well-known Jesuit school in Liverpool.
On Fridays, true to form, we always had fish and chips, there. An elderly priest confessed to me, many decades later, that the Catholic Church always had the intention of helping the fishing industry throughout the world, with its rule of `fish on Friday`.
However, on this occasion, after my dinner duty, I arrived at the end of the dinner queue, to be greeted with one of those “pass-it-on” sentences. This particular one was, ”Don`t eat the fish. Cook has been sick in the batter. Pass it on.” (It wasn`t made clear whether it was the sentence or the batter which should be passed on).
As I approached the serving hatch, I observed the growing pile of battered fish. My fish ended up there, also. Mind you, I say `fish`. Cook must have got several portions out of each fish before she immersed them in the batter, whatever the content. The so called delicacy was always cool and dried out before we got it.
Lunch at the Academy started differently for me, on this particular day. As soon as I got into the canteen, a fight broke out in the queue, between two of the smaller boys. They were only eleven years old. The duty teachers had not seen the scuffle, and so it was up to me to deal with the disorder. Taking the risk of being bitten or kicked, I approached and parted the boys before any serious harm was done.
”What are you fighting about?” I asked the one who seemed to be the victim. Shaking with rage, he replied, ”He called my Mum a virgin.” For once, I had nothing to say. Then, the year head arrived, and I left him to get on with it while I went to the front of the queue to get my lunch.
“Thankfully, battered cod was not part of the menu, and I picked up an empty plate and proffered it to the dinner-lady in charge of the mash. She plonked a scoop-full onto the plate. The next one deposited a slice of pork and a spoonful of gravy, and the third, several sprouts. A loud “tut” and a comment from another, followed. When the sprout woman realised what she had done she quickly grabbed hold of the plate and scooped off the sprouts, leaving only two. ”Yerrownly allowed two,” she said. Thinking it more diplomatic to be silent, I moved on. The irony of the situation was to be seen as I left the canteen, later. The waste bin was filled mostly with sprouts.
This incident reminded me of a similar one, in the College canteen, when I was doing my Teacher Training course. We were in the queue and just coming up to the serving hatch. All the courses were on display on the counter and I was about to be served with a bowl full of brown soup.
“What sort is it?” I asked.
“Ees choc-o-latay soup,” the Spanish waitress replied. Just then, a female student who had already taken her meal, noticing that I had distracted the waitress by my question, took this opportunity to take another dessert, which was fruit and custard in a bowl. The waitress was not going to let the student get away with it and instantaneously grabbed hold of the bowl. A power struggle followed. For several seconds, I watched as both women `white-knuckled` the bowl. Neither party won, however, because the bowl and its contents ended up in the `chocolate` soup. Spanish expletives followed and the student quickly moved back to her seat, biding her time until another window of opportunity presented itself.
I joined other members of staff, including the one who had burst in on my lesson, for my lunch. “Sorry for bursting in on your lesson, like that,” he said with one of those false smiles, his words preceded by a gust of curry breath, enough to knock me out.
”I`m Arthur Stilton,known as the `Big Cheese`, around here. Head of Year Nine.” He returned to his curry. I noticed that he did not settle, as he was shovelling his curried rice into his mouth.
He was constantly observing the behaviour of the boys, who all seemed to be behaving remarkably well. Suddenly, he pushed back his chair, scraping it on the lino tiles, and stood up. “I knew it,” he said for all to hear. ”There are strangers in our midst.”
The rest of us watched as he left the table and went towards a group of boys in the centre of the room. They realised that he was heading for them, and four of the boys got up in a hurry, and rushed for the exit, not caring what damage they caused in their haste to escape. Mr Stilton chased after them, to the accompaniment of whistles, cheers and applause.
(And that was just from the members of staff.)
“What was all that about?” I asked May, who was sitting opposite.
“This sort of thing happens quite a lot, here,” she said. “I don`t know why the Head doesn`t do something about it. The boys who ran out were from a nearby comp. Their friends are here. I discovered that a lot of the boys have got their mothers to remove their badges and sew on press studs so that they can remove their badges whenever they leave the school premises. Then they can nip into their mates` schools, and not get caught. Also, they can misbehave in the street knowing that their school cannot be traced. The boys from other comps have done the same. They come for lunch. They are invited by them, and then they go back for more lunch at their own school.”
After luncheon, Corky came to the Common Room and said, ”I`ll show you to your next lesson, John.” As we walked across the emptying yard he said, “I have been looking through your CV, and noticed the names of some of your previous schools. They compare with the schools one of our new pupils has been to.”
We entered the block and climbed the stairs. “There`s somebody in this Year 10 group whom you know,” said Corky, loudly, as we went into the classroom, making sure that the boys, especially the newcomer, had heard him. There were several boys standing in a huddle at the back of the room, watching us, as if we had entered their `territory.`
Corky continued. ”Of course you know Lee Jones from previous schools, don`t you?” he asked. I looked into the group, and did indeed recognise the boy, now fifteen years old. Then, the humour took over and I said, “Here am I, a supply teacher, and there you are, a supply student.”
The boys responded with their banter and laughter, all at Lee`s expense, but he was strong enough to take it, as he was something of a hero in his `new` school, having been thrown out of three already.
( A few days later, some of Lee`s friends came up to me and one of them said,” I wish I was Lee Jones, Sir.”
“Why`s that?” I enquired.
“Well, Sir,” continued the youth, he`s at home, probably in bed or watching the TV.” I was taken aback by this comment, and thinking he was indisposed, I asked,” Is he ill?”
“Oh no, Sir,” he said smiling cheekily, “nothing like that. He has been thrown out again.” With that, they all walked away, their minds on something else).
After the mid-afternoon break, Corky introduced me to a Year 7 class, where I was to `try out` a little French. As soon as he had left the room, some of the bolder types tried to take over by introducing me to their friends. Carl Malden was the boldest.
He put his arm round a small, crew cutted, plump boy, and `playfully` knuckled his head, at the same time saying, ”This is Reg, Sir. Reg Holdsworth… off Coronation Street.” Another called out, ”Yes, Sir, and he also does double glazing adverts.”
In all my years, I had never seen such a good look- a-like. The poor boy sat there, red faced and squirming, trying not to let the tears show. He looked at me through his round rimmed spectacles, but I think he was resigned by then to his nickname, and all he could do was to remain silent.
(This put me in mind of another boy who had an unfortunate nickname, on account of his looks. His was `Ronald MacDonald`).
Final lessons of the day are always difficult, but we got there in the end, and a few minutes before the bell rang, Corky returned. “Was everything all right?” he enquired.
“Yes,” I replied. ”I would have enjoyed it, had it not been for the constant interruptions of one boy.”
“Which boy was that?” asked Corky, looking round the room.
“He called himself Peter Whyte- Bayte,” I replied. Corky became rather angered.
“Peter Whyte-Bayte isn`t even in this class,” he said. ”Can you pick out the boy concerned?” I pointed out the troublesome boy, who had already moved away from where he had been sitting in the front row. Then, Corky swung into action. “That`s Shane Prior,” he said, voice raised, and then to the boy, “Get down to my office, you have no business even being in this class.”
He called after him,”And you deliberately tried to get Peter Whyte-Bayte into trouble. We will see what your mother has to say.” As Shane slunk out of the room, the boys stayed silent, as they wished to go home.
The next day, I had to teach French to a group of Year 10 boys. I was in the room first, and they sauntered in from other lessons, and sat down.
As we waited for the full complement to arrive, I chose to get to know my pupils by chatting to them.
I told them that I had studied French, for many years, and was in the process of learning Spanish, and that I had also learned Latin. One of the lads, who seemed smarter than the others in the form, asked me,” Do you know any other languages?” He paused for a moment and then, trying to outsmart me, asked,” Do you know any Chinese?”
“Yes, I do,” I answered firmly, and paused. “They own a Fish and Chip bar near my house.” There was a stunned silence, and then, not to be outdone, the same boy continued,” Do you know any Japanese?”
“Yes, of course, they own a small Sushi bar, in the next street,” I said, as the final boy entered and closed the door. Although some giggled, not many had understood what was said, and so I began the lesson.
We practised some conversation, and learned how to avoid mistaking one word for another. I introduced the expression, `do you have?` and the word for `a stork.` Therefore, if we link up the words and make a question, it ends up as, “Avez- vous un cigogne?” which does not mean “Do you have a ciggy on you” as some of them thought. It must have been their pronunciation which caused the trouble, and their lack of attention.
I told them to write down these expressions as I read them out. One boy interrupted to ask, ”What did you just say, Sir?” Having noticed that he had been talking to his friend I replied, ”I don`t know. I wasn`t paying attention either,” leaving him to get the information from his friend.
As we had strayed on to the subject of smoking, we learned some of the vocabulary: do you smoke? Yes I smoke; No I do not smoke; Are you a smoker? Yes, I am a smoker; no, I am not a smoker. All this translates simply as: Tu fumes? Oui, je fume. Non, je ne fume pas. Tu es fumeur?
Oui, je suis fumeur, non, je ne suis pas fumeur.
At this point, I introduced the class to the errors of not paying attention to what was being said and to spelling, because errors in both could lead to embarrassment. Then, I introduced another word, `un fumier,` and its meaning, which has nothing at all to do with smoking cigarettes, and can cause a great deal of amusement to the questioner but embarrassment to the person who has not heard properly.
We had done some practice on these expressions for several minutes, all of them being careful to avoid the word `un fumier`, when the door burst open, and in bounced a tall boy in a blue tracksuit and trainers. “It`s Gander, Sir,” several of them called out, much to his annoyance.” (“Oh, no,” I thought, “not another nickname”.) Before trouble followed, I called him over to where I was. “Are you a member of this class?” I asked calmly, as the noise subsided. The boys waited to see what would happen. (As you may recall, I had had experience of a `cuckoo`! on a previous occasion.)
Gander regained his composure and stood still. Suddenly, he remembered his manners and apologised for arriving late. He handed me a note of explanation from Corky. “Mr Champagne said to give you this, Sir,” he said, quietly. One of the boys made a quiet “POP”, at the mention of Corky`s name, and another nudged him, telling him to be quiet, “Cos they didn`t want detention.”
The note told me why Gander had been late. I told him to sit down and continued the lesson.
We did some more practice of our sentences, and then, Goat, Gander`s rival, who had been awaiting his chance, asked Gander, “Tu fumes?” The boy paused to think. It was obvious to me why Goat had asked him. Some of the boys suddenly pretended to be afflicted by smoker`s cough, in order to annoy Gander, who stood up and rounded on them.”Arright, so I smoke. So what?” he called out, angry and embarrassed. The others backed off. It was over in moments.
I coaxed them back to work, and then Gander asked Goat, whose mind was on what his friend, Badger, was saying to him, “Tu es fumier?” The class subsided in uproar as he replied,” Er, oui, je suis fumier.””
“Ah, Goat, la, you live on a dung heap,” called out one of them. ”No, no, he just said he is a dung heap,” called out another.
“Be quiet,” I said, loudly, and they obeyed, as I stood behind the teacher`s table, considering what to do with a group where there was so much rivalry. (You will have worked out, by now, I hope, the meaning of `un fumier`. And if you haven`t, well, you really should pay attention.)
On another afternoon, after lunch, I waited by the window of my classroom for the English group to arrive. I was looking at the trees surrounding the yard. Some of them had low branches, but not low enough for the boys to climb on.
I watched for any signs of trouble, as the boys lined up and then filed in. Then, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, that one of the Year eight boys had been hiding behind a tree. When he realised that he was the only person in the yard, he took off his blazer, rolled it up and flung it towards one of the branches. The blazer missed its mark and fell to the ground. Not to be deterred, the boy picked up his blazer and tried again. This time, the blazer hit the mark, and lay draped over the branch, too high for him or an adult to reach. A ladder would be needed.
The boy was Wayne Ray, only thirteen, but already well known to authority. Satisfied that the garment would not fall, he strutted off into the school. Little did I know, but I was to be implicated in his plot.
After the English lesson, I went downstairs to see what had become of Wayne Ray`s blazer incident. No sooner had I appeared in the Year Head`s corridor when he saw me and called me over. He asked, ”Did you give Wayne Ray permission to stand in the corridor all afternoon?”
“Not at all,” I replied,” but I have come to see you to mention what he did with his blazer. He threw it onto a tree branch at the end of lunch hour, and it`s still there.”
Mr Tench, from Motherwell, opened the door to his office where Wayne was standing, in his shirt and trousers, in front of the desk, which was piled high with mail, files and an empty coffee mug. I waited out of sight in the corridor at the Year Head`s suggestion. He entered and said,” Now then, Wayne, what`s going on. You have been telling me some porkies, haven`t you?”
Wayne looked at the floor, shuffled his feet, and said,”No. What makes you think that?”
“When I asked you were your blazer was,” said Mr Tench, ”first you said it was in your bag in the cloakroom, then you thought it was in the gym and then you said that `Nibbler` Mullet had taken it. Have you any more `red herrings` (emphasising these last two words) to add to the list before I tell you where it really is?” he asked.
I watched as Wayne shuffled some more and then he came back with a real corker,(no pop with the finger here please).
“I asked Mr Leahy to mind it for me when he said I could go to the sick room because I wasn`t feeling too well,” said Wayne, trying to play the sympathy card.
“Come in, please, Mister Leahy,” said Mr Tench. ”Wayne, here, thinks that you have been looking after his blazer for him. He says that you kept it with you when you sent him to the sick room.”
“I can tell you both where it is, Mr Tench.” I paused for effect and then continued.” It is lying on the branch of a tree in the yard.”
“Well, Mr Leahy must have put it there after I gave it to him,” said Wayne, defiantly. ”He did it to get me into trouble. He has never liked me.”
Mr Tench was already sitting behind the mound of `rubble` which was on his desk. “You should write scripts or comics, Wayne,” he said. ”Your ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. Mr Leahy saw you, from his window. You threw the blazer onto the branch.”
“Perhaps you would believe the evidence of several witnesses, Wayne,” I said. “They saw the blazer on the branch, and would be willing to tell you that you didn`t come anywhere near me this afternoon,” I said. Wayne had had enough, and seeing no reason to stay, his eyes welling up with tears, he bolted through the open door way shouting,” You are all against me.”
Before I left Mr Tench`s room, he rang Mrs Ray to tell her what had happened, and that her son would likely be home early.
As with all my time in these schools, departure day soon came round. Mine came after several weeks at Saint Bartolph`s.
On that last morning, Mr Thrasher, not often seen beyond the confines of his office, entered the Common Room with Corky, who called for silence.
“As you all know, our Support Service Teacher is leaving today, and the Head has delegated me to say a few words,” said Corky, who was not going to let Mr Thrasher off from participating.
The Head thought that he would stand and I was called to accept some book tokens and two St Bartolph`s Academy mugs. He shook my hand enthusiastically, said, “Thank you for all your hard work, here,” and promptly sat down.
Because there seemed to be a hiatus in the proceedings, and as I was standing anyway, I decided to say a few words of farewell.
“Thank you all for your gifts,” I said, deciding then to speak further, as I looked round the room at all the expectant faces. People knew by now of my ability to milk a situation, and so I said, ”When it comes to events, such as this, I always prefer to say something. Apparently, Andrew Lloyd Webber and I have this in common. A friend who had just had words with AlW, as he is known, complained to a friend who said to him,”I warned you not to have a row with him. He will make a song and dance out of anything.”
After the groans had finished, and seeing that they were thirsty for more, I continued, “At my previous school, I helped out with the musical, Joseph`s Techni colour Dream coat. The Head of the Art Department, Mr Cyril Bass, bore a resemblance to a well- known Australian singer, who also painted on large canvas, during some of his television shows, and, prompted of this fact by one of the boys, helping to paint the scenery, I told him so.
Mister C.Bass put down his paint brush, drew himself up, and, looking me in the eye, said,” You are suffering from an over developed sense of humour.”
Well, I must say, I cannot agree with him. I believe everyone else suffers from my over developed sense of humour.”
My audience appreciated my comments and returned to their own conversation leaving me to attend to my own business of the day. Before he left the room Mr Thrasher came over and said,”The others may think I was paying no attention to your progress, but I was. Call in at my office before you leave, there`s a bottle of something appetising for you there.”
I left St Bartolph`s that afternoon. I must say I will miss that School of Fish. Or should that be “shoal?”
Now follows a different type of story. It is dedicated to an elderly priest, who came to say Mass at Saint Joseph`s, just before Father Leo became parish priest. This was Father John Gough, in his eighties and still working.
Wen, Awl, Seddon, Dunne....Bereavement Solicitors,
by John Leahy
Finula parked the car and looked around for the parking machine. Moments later, she had stuck the ticket on the inside of the windscreen and was making her way towards the High Street and her interview. She had been looking forward to this morning and the job potential which it offered, ever since she had received the letter summoning her for interview. "I wonder what it will be like working as a secretary for a solicitor instead of for a bank manager," she thought.
Within moments, she was at the door of the premises, a converted shop between Sayers the Bakers and Greggs the Bakers. To her knowledge, there was only one other example of such a situation and that was in Ormskirk where two bakers` shops existed side by side. Nervously, she pushed open the door and was greeted by a sing-song voice saying, "Good morning, Madam, how can I help yew?"(spelled to imitate her speech)
The room was empty except for a chair in front of the counter, behind which stood a young female Goth, with long black hair, the whitened face highlighted by the black mascara and black lipstick. "I hope this get-up is not obligatory, thought Finula, as she approached. There was a large black mug, filled to the brim with black coffee, of course, on the counter in front of the Goth, and several unwrapped marshmallows, just waiting to be eaten, resting on a saucer. Several pieces of crumpled foil lay nearby, betraying the young woman`s guilty secret and her intentions.
In reply to the Goth`s question, Finula said," I`m Mrs Finula Bowen, I`ve come for the job interview with Mr Lough," pronouncing this last word to rhyme with `lock`. She was quickly corrected by the Goth." It`s pronounced `Loff`, she said. "I`m Tilda Field."
Tilda pretended to be interested by running her bejewelled forefinger down an appointments` list, which was sello taped to the counter top. " Oh, yes," she said," Mr Loff will see you in a few moments. Come this way." She lifted a portion of the counter and waited for Finula to get past. As soon as Finula was behind the counter. Tilda dropped the door with a loud bang causing Finula to jump. "Sorry," said Tilda, in that off-hand way which is common to some people. She opened the door and ushered Finula into the next room.
There were chairs along two sides of the room and two offices facing Finula. A large woman sat in the middle on the right hand side and an unhappy, elderly couple opposite her.
" Don`t sit down," Tilda said abruptly. "Come this way." She rapped on the right hand door, pushed it open and called in," Miss Bowman is here, Mister Loff."
"Come in, come in," boomed a voice from inside the room.
"That`s Missus and Bowen," said Finula into Tilda`s face as she went past. Tilda fluttered her eyelashes as if in defiance.
"Organise some tea, would you Tilda, there`s a love," requested the large man, who was sitting behind a large, untidy desk. Tilda left, with a sigh, and Mr Lough gestured to Finula to sit on the chair in front of the desk. Finula had seen such an untidy desk before. This one, like the other, was strewn with books, magazines, pencils, cardboard folders bursting with papers, a full ashtray and a large empty, white, china cup on a saucer. A `phone rested precariously near Mr Lough`s left hand. On a separate table, behind Mr Lough, was a computer attached to a printer.
Mr Lough had a roundish, white face. His full head of hair was beginning to turn white, but showed signs that it had been fair in days gone by. A pair of rimless spectacles rested on his nose. He was wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and a red tie. A heavy, brown walking stick was propped against the desk to his right. "Now, then, Miss Bowman," he began, but Finula stopped him in his tracks. “It`s Bowen, and it`s Missus," she said with conviction, realising that she should put her foot down before it was too late.
"Ah, yes, so it is. Sorry. My mistakes. Please forgive me," he said, not looking up from Finula`s application form. He continued, "I see you have had clerical and bank experience.....and a degree. Tilda had better watch out. As a matter of fact, so had I." Before Finula could reply, Tilda burst into the room carrying a tray, upon which were two white, china cups filled with tea, two saucers and a small plate with two chocolate biscuits on it. She placed the tray on the safest looking folder, gave a cup of tea on a saucer to Finula, and left.
"Thank you, Tilda," said Mr Lough just before she slammed the door. He sipped his tea slowly as he perused the document and, suddenly, he said," There will, of course, be a separate office for you, should you be successful at this interview."
Finula thought," I should hope so too," as she sipped the tea.
After several minutes of silence, and occasional sipping of tea, by both parties, Mr Lough put down the letter and c.v. and said," Well, I`ve refreshed my memory, young lady." Finula was flattered to be called `young lady,` as she was now in her mid-forties, and it did make her feel young. He continued, "If you get the position, part of your responsibilities will be to make me copious cups of tea, according to my specifications, which Tilda cannot do." He intoned this last phrase, very slowly, emphasising each word, so as to make a point. Then, he paused and smiled at Finula. He continued, "And you`ll have to audit my personal accounts, and maybe do some occasional ironing.... which I may bring into the office."
Although, outwardly, Finula seemed to be taking all this in, inwardly she was deep in thought. "My goodness," she was thinking, " he`s just like Father John." This was an old priest, of whom she was rather fond, who had passed away some time before, and who had treated her as the daughter he had never had. She had looked after him during his retirement, in the ways in which Mr Lough was expecting her to behave in her time with him.
While she was musing, she almost missed Mr Lough`s question, "Can you carry out these instructions to the letter?"
"I`m sorry," she spluttered into the cup," of course I can carry out your instructions. Especially about the tea-making."
"That`s fine," said the solicitor. "Part of the interview is a practical test. I want you to come with me, now. We are going to visit an elderly client, who has recently lost her husband, and depending on how well you do, the post will be yours. Her name is Filma Glass."
They both finished the tea, which was rather cool by now, and Finula stood up to put the cup and saucer on the tray. Lough placed his hands on the desk and forced himself to a standing position. He was much larger and taller than Finula. "When we go out," he said," you will have to be patient and help me with certain things. First, would you get me my overcoat from the stand in the corner, please?" She had noticed the black coat, as she had entered, and obligingly brought it to him. She helped as he struggled to put it on. Then, with the aid of his stick, he came round to the front of the desk.
" Keys," he said, patting his body and pockets. "I must have my keys." He sounded very much like a robot. They both scanned the untidy mess on the desk. "Ah, there they are," he said triumphantly." He repeated the procedure as he said the word `money`. Then he turned towards the door and said," Right, let`s go." Finula opened the door. The large woman was still there, reading a magazine, but the elderly couple had gone. As they walked into the outer room, Finula heard the woman call, " Mister Lough," but he seemed to ignore her as he closed the door. Then, he said to Tilda, " Tell Mrs What`s-her-name to go and that we`ll send her a letter about the job." He paused and said with a twinkle in his eye, "But give us a couple of minutes to get clear." It was obvious to Finula, however, that Tilda was going to fill her time by drinking more tea and eating more marshmallows.
Once in the street Mr Lough said, "My car is just around this corner," and Finula followed. He stopped at the only car in the street, an old white Rover, parked on double yellow lines. Then, Lough said , "Here, you take the keys," and as she obediently took them she had a terrible feeling that if a traffic warden saw her in the driving-seat she might be fined for parking on the double yellow lines.
"Why are you hesitating, Girl?" asked Lough. "You can drive, I hope."
"Of, of course I can," she replied, as she opened the doors with the remote control key. She got in and her fears were allayed when she saw the disabled person`s badge on the dash board.
"I just don`t believe it, "she gasped." It`s like `deja vu`. It`s as if I am dreaming. Even the car is like Father John`s, down to the badge."
A visit to Mrs Glass
(Now, it must be mentioned here that this is not the Mrs Glass who told her doctor that her husband had got smashed at the Christmas party of the the Brittle Bone Disease Society, and whose response was, ”It`s a good thing you told me that. I`m starting a splinter group.”)
Just then, Lough sat down and used his stick to pull the seat-belt from its hook. "Take the car into the High Street and turn left," he ordered. Finula obeyed, and Lough gave directions when necessary. Very soon they were in a tree-lined avenue, and Lough told Finula to stop outside No 17.
"You must get out first and come round and help me out," he said, as he undid the seat-belt. Finula got out and walked round to the other side of the car. Lough had already swung his legs out and, with difficulty, she helped him to stand up.
They approached the front door, which was at the end of a short path.
"Ring the bell," said Lough. After a short wait, the door was opened by an elderly woman, who was wearing a light blue trouser suit.
"Do come in, Mister Lough, I`ve been expecting you," she said with a smile. And,as an afterthought, "The young lady as well, of course."
"I know," said Lough, "otherwise I wouldn`t be here."
They were ushered into what Mrs Glass called `her parlour`, and at her bidding, sat down, Finula on an armchair and Lough on an upright chair, so it would be easier to stand when they had finished.
"I`ll not offer you anything to drink," said Mrs Glass, "as you left the tea I gave you, last time."
"That`s quite all right, Mrs Brass," said Lough. "By the way, this is Fenelda Beaumorris, my new secretary."
"What`s the use," thought Finula, amused by the whole situation.
As Mrs Glass sat down, Lough said to his secretary," Did you bring your notebook with you?" Finula nodded, and took it out of her handbag.
"Take notes," he said, as he took a folded letter from the inside pocket of his jacket. He opened up the letter, scanned it, and said to Mrs Glass," As you are well aware, it has been some weeks since your husband`s departure. According to the terms of the will, you had something to do before you could receive any of his money."
"Yes," said Mrs Glass, in a matter of fact way. "I was to get rid of my pigeons. He detested them something awful, he did. But he loved me enough to let me keep them, even though he was dying from a pigeon -related disease."
"That`s quite right, Mrs Grass," said her solicitor, "but it would seem that he didn`t love you all that much, as under the terms, you had to get rid of them in order to inherit. So, maybe he`s got you twice, seeing that you expressed reluctance to get rid of them, when I read the will for you."
"Oh, but that`s where you are wrong," Mr Lough, " she said." I have got rid of them, and I have had all the lofts demolished. You can come and see for yourself."
"There will be no need for that. Your word is good enough for me. After all, where such a large sum is at stake, why would you want to lie?" said Lough. "You will be getting notification in a few days that everything is in order."
"Thank you so much for your time and effort, Mr Lough," said Mrs Glass.
"That`s quite all right," he replied, as he made a great effort to stand. Finula stood too, and Mrs Glass showed them out of the house.
On the way out, Finula`s mind was going over the situation, and, being unable to keep her thoughts to herself, as soon as they were back in the car she said, "I can`t help wondering, Mr Lough. Mrs Glass kept those pigeons all those years, knowing full well that they were killing her husband, and yet she did nothing to get rid of them. I don`t think that she loved him as much as she is letting on. And, she has probably still got the pigeons hidden away somewhere, ready to re-install them when all the fuss has died down. It`s almost as if she had murdered him and she is going to get away with it."
"There is probably a lot of truth in what you are saying, Lass," said Lough, "but who are we to know what is in another person`s mind and what are her motives? Whether she has murdered him or not, we must keep our thoughts to ourselves, as the Police have not suggested any impropriety. Now, drive us back to the office, and as you are now officially my secretary, you can start by making us both a cup of tea, and doing some urgent ironing."
Finula obeyed, wondering what was going to happen next.
Out to lunch
Back in the office, Mr Lough hinted that his desk needed tidying, and when Finula realised that he was not going to do it, she got stuck in, having, of course, made the obligatory cups of tea. In fact, she did the job so well, putting items in order on shelves and other work surfaces, that when she had finished, Mr Lough exclaimed, "Why didn`t I get somebody like you to do this before? It`s like a new office."
He paused, as if in thought, and said, "My dear, what am I thinking of? You haven`t had any lunch. This won`t do! I`m going to take you out for some. I know just the place. Get my overcoat, please."
A few minutes later they were in his car, heading for the country. "I know a little place, not too far away, where we can get something to suit us both," Lough said. He gave directions, and they were soon in a small village, where Lough pointed out a small cafe called `The Cup and Saucer`. Finula found a parking space behind the cafe and helped Lough out of the car. "This will be better than the Greasy Spoon Cafe, in the High Street," said Lough, with a grin.
Soon, they were inside the premises, seated at a table by the window. There were not many customers , and the waitress was quick to come to the table, smiling ingratiatingly while clutching her notepad and pencil.
"Good afternoon, Madam, Sir," she said as she ushered them to a table by the window. It was made up of many panes, wooden framed,in the old English style, and was draped with lace curtains. They had hardly sat down, when she asked, "Are you ready to order?"
"I`ll say we are," said Lough, heartily, "We`ll start with some tea... if that`s all right with you, Finula?" he queried, glancing towards her.
"Oh, of course," she was going to say "Father John," but stopped herself just in time. "And could I have the salmon sandwiches with side salad, please?"
"Of course you can, my love," replied the waitress, in that unctuous way that some of them have learned over the years, hoping for a larger tip at the end of it all. "And what about you,Sir?"
"I`ll have the same, please," Lough replied. Then, as they waited patiently, he said, in hushed tones, "Be careful not to turn round too quickly, but if you can see that couple, over there by the wall, you`ll be able to see that they are married."
Finula covered the side of her head with her open hand, elbow resting on the table, and looked, curiosity getting the better of her. "How do you know that?" she whispered. "Is it because you can see their rings?"
"Oh, no," replied Lough with a grin," they are both reading separate newspapers."
"Oh, Mr Lough," said Finula, grinning sheepishly, and before she could say more, the waitress arrived with the meal, and left the slip of paper on the table cloth." That reminds me of when people give presents," said Lough." They always leave the receipt in the bag."
Finula reached for the china pot, but Lough said, "Let it brew a little longer." She poured out the milk and at a nod from her employer, she poured out the strong tea.
The waitress kept looking across at the couple, to see if they were nearly finished, and then, at what seemed an apt time, she wheeled the dessert trolley out of the kitchen and past their table, a gesture that was designed to entice one or both to look at the contents and fall for one or more of the items.
Needless to say, the trolley was packed with gateaux, trifles, ice-cream and several different flavoured jellies. Mr Lough seemed to take no interest in the trolley what-so-ever, as he was taking into account the supposedly many dietary requirements of his new secretary. He waved his hand for the trolley to be taken away, so as to avoid embarrassing her.
"Thank you for doing that, Mr Lough," said Finula. "I was almost tempted."
"So was I," said Lough, "until I saw the large bluebottle guzzling on the cream on the Black Forest gateau." He took out his wallet and gestured to the waitress to show that they were finished. She approached like a hawk, and, ever ready to sell another item, enquired, "Would you like anything else?"
Finula shook her head and Lough said, "No thank you. Just the bill, please." The waitress made her way to the counter, opened the till and computed the bill. Mr Lough paid and returned to the car with Finula.
Mr Ivor Sillitoe
Once in the car, Lough said," There`s another unpleasant visit that has been preying on my mind for some time, and I feel I ought to make it and get it over with, as soon as possible. It concerns an elderly man in a rest home, who was implicated in the death of a priest of the same age. Nothing was proved, and, although they had their suspicions, the police did not bring any charges."
"Are all your cases like this?" Mr Lough, Finula asked, rather concerned.
"Well, yes. I suppose they are," Lough replied. "They bring a certain excitement to what would otherwise be boring and mundane work. Of course, one can only harbour the suspicions, and must be very careful not to let on to the client."
Once again, curiosity prompted Finula to be bold, and she said, "Well, if I am to be taken into yours and the clients` confidence, I suppose I should know all the gory details about the cases. I feel it will help me to be better at what I do."
"D` ye know, you`re right, Lass," said Lough. He took out his mobile `phone and passed it to her." You`ll need this, in a few moments, when I`ve explained the situation." He paused, and then continued," You will find that most of my dealings will take place in retirement homes or residences, because that`s the nature of my business." Again, he paused, and took out yet another brown envelope from his inside pocket. Carefully, he took some letters from it and opened them out.
Lough wrote the `phone number on a large, lined card and passed it to Finula. "Ring the number. It`s where Mr Ivor Sillitoe lives. Announce who you are, and whom you represent, and ask if it will be convenient for me to call and see him. Preferably this afternoon."
Finula obeyed. The `phone rang and rang. "There doesn`t seem to be anyone there, Mr Lough," she said. "It`s rung sixteen times so far."
"There is always somebody there," retorted Lough, in his usual staccato. "It is the nature of such places. They make callers wait so that they will get fed up and then there is no need to interrupt what they are doing. Usually, they are on a tea-break, or outside for a smoke, and it`s too much trouble to stop what they are doing."
Just then, Finula said, "Oh, it seems I`m through. Er, hello?" Finula could hear the `sing-song` voice, now common to most businesses, and waited.
"Dying Embers, Home for the elderly. How can I help you?" sang the woman`s voice at the other end.
"Oh, er, yes," said Finula, trying to be patient with the woman. "After all, she has been trained to speak like that," she thought. "I`m speaking on behalf of Mr Lough of`Wen, Awl, Sed and Dunne, Solicitors. He would like to speak to Mr Sillitoe, if that is possible, please," Finula said.
The voice at the home was quick off the mark. "Oh, you`ll want Marge or Reen," she said. Finula could hear the `phone ringing again. Suddenly, another voice sang, "Marge, here. How can I help you?"
Finula repeated her opening speech and Marge said, "Come any time, Luv. He`ll be here. Just ask for Jack or Leen, if you come tomorrow. It`s their day on. Byeee." She had gone almost as suddenly as she had answered the `phone.
The message was repeated to Mr Lough, who said, "We will be there by four, this afternoon. However, I must tell you a little about the situation, and as usual in these circumstances, it would be better if you just took notes and did not contribute, at all, to the meeting.
Finula nodded. "Yes, of course," she said, and Lough suggested that she start the car and drive to the home. The journey took twenty minutes and Lough explained the situation. "Both I and the police have had a conversation with Mr Sillitoe," he said," and they were satisfied that the death of Father A. Way was an accident, in fact, one that had been waiting to happen."
"From your tone of voice,” interrupted Finula," and how you are saying what you are saying, you don`t seem very convinced."
Lough did not reply and continued, "The situation is a very difficult one. It would appear that both Sillitoe and Way had known each other for over fifty years, since their time in the seminary together. Sillitoe had left before Ordination, but they had remained friends over the years. One thing they had in common, though, was their love for the horses, and they would meet as often as possible to go to the races, especially the Grand National. Sillitoe told me they had won and lost several fortunes, but after a while, they always got back in the black."
"But if they were such good friends, Mr Lough," why do you suspect that Mr Sillitoe had something to do with the priest`s death?"
"Shush, Lass, I`m coming to that," said Lough, impatiently.
"In a private conversation, Sillitoe told me that as neither had any next of kin, they had both provided for the other in their wills. He had also told me that he was desperate to get out of the home and into sheltered accommodation, but he didn`t have enough to do it, and that is where Father A. Way comes in. He had let onto Sillitoe that he had stored up a good amount in stocks and shares over the years, and as well as his pension and help from the Diocese, he would be all right, in the diocesan flat, where he had lived for some years.
Sillitoe, on the other hand, was paying for his time in The Dying Embers, and the chance of getting into the sheltered accommodation seemed to be getting further and further away. Then, one day recently, Sillitoe told me that Way had done well on the horses, but wouldn`t tell him how much he had won, which on the priest`s past performance, meant it would have been a tidy sum."
"There`s the` Dying Embers sign`, Mr Lough," interrupted Finula, and she stopped the car by the pavement, instead of driving onto the premises.
"I`ll just finish, before we get out," said Lough, and continued.
"While the priest was there, Sillitoe had expressed how desperate he was, and how he needed some financial help, but Way was not listening, and there was a lot of awkwardness between them both. Sillitoe had followed him in his wheelchair on to the narrow landing, and as the priest paused, probably to say he was sorry for the predicament of his friend, Sillitoe did not stop his chair in time, Way lost his balance and tumbled to the bottom of the steep flight of stairs. Apparently, he broke his neck.
Mr Sillitoe returned to his room and pressed the button to call the carer, but two had already heard the noise of the fall and had arrived at the scene to find the priest dead."
"So, from what you have been told, it would seem that Sillitoe had caused his friend`s death," said Finula. "Did you not feel obliged to tell the police?"
"What would have been the point?" asked Lough. "It was privileged information, nobody would have been better off for knowing what I had been told, and it would have meant all sorts of trouble and a possible conviction for manslaughter for Mr Sillitoe, even if he had told the police that he had bumped into the priest. As it was, the officers who arrived spoke to Sillitoe, examined the scene, and assumed that Way had missed a step and had fallen to his death."
Finula remained quiet, pondering the situation. "But if...."
Lough butted in before she could say anymore. "There are no `but ifs` in a situation like this, Finula," said Lough, quietly, like an old uncle. "The police were satisfied with their findings, they knew nothing of the men`s conversation, and Sillitoe`s predicament, and as nobody was convicted for the death.... well, the whole thing is best left to God.....the death and the state of the Sillitoe`s conscience."
Lough and Finula got out of the car. "Are you sure you want to come in, after all you have heard, Finula?" asked Lough.
"Just try and stop me, " she replied." After the way you have explained things, and filled in all the details, the situation is much clearer. And also, your explanation has helped me not to be so quick to jump to false conclusions."
Just as they started up the path, Lough asked," Do you hear the sound of the television? If we can hear it from out here, just think what it must be like for the poor residents. I have often come across homes like this before."
Finula rang the bell, and as they waited, she said," D`ye know, Mr Lough, I did notice that noise when I `phoned. They must all be deaf in there."
"You`re right. If they weren`t when they arrived, they are now," said Lough. The door was opened after about two minutes, and several attempts to ring the bell, by a small twenty- something. She welcomed them in a Polish accent and they stepped in. "I did not hear you because of the noise from the television," she said, little realising that all she had to do was turn down the volume. Lough knew it would be futile to suggest it, as he had tried in another home, only to be told that the residents were `watching the television`, even though they had all reached saturation point and had become unconscious.
On that occasion, he had noticed a carer shouting above the noise at one of the old people, who was trying very hard to understand what the carer wanted. When he had suggested that she would not have to shout if she turned down the volume, he received the same answer," The residents are watching the television, and they need it on loud so that they can listen."
The Polish carer shouted," Mr Sillitoe is in his room, if you would care to wait for the lift." She went off to take a resident to the toilet, and as he could see no other carers present, Lough took the opportunity he had been waiting for. He entered the lounge, went over to the television and took out the plug. Deftly, with a small screwdriver, which he had taken from his pocket, he opened the plug, took out the fuse and replaced it with one he had taken from his pocket. He screwed the back on the fuse and put it back in the socket. Then, he pretended to turn on the set and obviously, it did not work. The residents clapped him quietly. One of the old ladies said, "Thank you so much, on behalf of us all. We never have the chance to turn down the volume, because of the carers." She winked at him as he left the room.
Suddenly, another carer rushed into the room, startled by the sudden silence, and went to see what had happened to the TV set. As she looked round at the old folk, the Pole said," It is broke. I will ring for the man to fix it." "Let`s hope he is busy," said one of the old men, as he began a conversation with his friend.
Finula and Lough waited by the lift for about five minutes, and suddenly, the doors opened. As a uniformed woman stepped out she asked, seeing Lough with a young lady, "Have you come to view the home? Is this your dad, luv?"
"No, to both questions," replied Finula indignantly. "We are going to see Mr Sillitoe."
"Sorry, luv," replied the carer, "you`ll find him in his room, number thirty, on the top floor."
On the landing, Finula looked pensively at the staircase, and then she followed Lough into Mr Sillitoe`s room, where they sat down at his invitation. After the introductions were over, Lough said, "I`ll get down to business, straight away, Mister Sillitoe." He took out a brown envelope from one of his pockets. This amused Finula, because it seemed that Lough`s jacket was like an office filing-cabinet. Slowly, he opened out the letter.
"This concerns your friend`s will," he said, rather somberly. You were the only beneficiary, Mr Sillitoe, but sad to say, even though there had been a considerable amount of money, in the form of stocks and shares.... in the will, this is no longer the case, because of the financial crisis. In fact, the true total, after all the usual sums are deducted, amounts to only two thousand pounds."
As Finula gasped, the old man stared straight ahead, a tear rolling slowly down his cheek. He had realised, only too late, that his moment of rashness had been in vain. Lough handed Sillitoe the letter. "Thank you, Mister Lough," he said. "Thank you for all your trouble...and you, too, young lady." Lough rose, as did Finula. "Is there anything else you would like me to do for you, Mister Sillitoe?" he asked .
Sillitoe paused before he replied. "I, I would like you to call Father Godsend, of Saint Alabaster`s, for me, if you would be so kind," he replied quietly. "I have something I need to say to him."
"You know I will," said Lough. "May God bless you and keep you safe." With that, he and Finula left the room, and took the lift to the ground floor. The house was still in silence. They left the building and got into the car. "Well, that`s your first day over, Lass. Will you come back tomorrow, for more?" asked Lough.
"Of course I will, Mister Lough, you won`t be able to keep me away. I`m learning so much about human nature, and about myself and you. Things that my Theology degree did not even touch upon." She turned the key, and drove back to the office. Just as they were about to enter the High Street, a builder`s truck, bearing the name `Rupert the Repairman` passed in front of them.
"Oh, look, Mister Lough, there goes my husband. I had better get something for our tea, before I go home." She parked the car in Lough`s usual place, and they got out. "Was it a very trying day, Lass?" asked Lough as they walked back to the office. "It was, but I`m ready for anything you can throw at me, after that lot.
"I`ll see you tomorrow,at nine o`clock. Goodnight Mister Lough."
Wen, Awl, Seddon, Dunne....Bereavement Solicitors,"
Invasion of the Goths
After a good night`s sleep and a hearty breakfast of Optivita and fruit followed by yogurt, peach flavour, a small slice of toast, covered with a thin layer of Flora and sugarless marmalade, and a cup of decaf tea with totally skimmed milk, Finula`s husband, Luke, drove her to the High Street in his truck, as he was working in the area. As for Finula, she had had the full English breakfast!
Having made sure that there were no wardens or Community Officers about, Luke stopped the truck opposite the solicitors` offices. Finula was raring to go and was about to get out when Luke said, "Look, Luv, it seems that there is a crowd of customers, already."
Finula looked past him and said, "Oh my, the reception area is full of Goths. They must be visiting Tilda."
"Well, whoever they are, it looks as if you are going to be busy," said Luke, amused by what he had seen. "Give me a ring when you are at the supermarket tonight, and I`ll come and pick you up."
After a quick kiss, Finula got out and watched as Luke drove away. She waited for a good gap in the traffic, coming from both directions, and crossed the road. As she opened the door, all the Goths turned towards her. There were three women and two men, all dressed in black, their faces whitened, and all wearing the black lipstick and eye-shadow. There was also a toddler with long black hair in a small black pram, and two boys, aged about seven, similarly attired.
"This is our new secretary, everyone," said Tilda, from behind her counter. They muttered their greetings as Tilda lifted the counter top, to allow Finula ingress. Finula tried to stifle a cough as her nostrils were filled with the strong odour of substance-riddled clothing.
The Goth with the pram finished off her conversation with Tilda. "Don`t forget to have a word with Mr Lough, about my two boys being excluded from school, will you, Tilda? There`s a Luv."
"I`ll have a go, Zeta, but I can`t promise you anything," said Tilda. "I`ll let you know." Without speaking all the Goths left and headed off along the street. Tilda smiled and said, " Good morning, Mrs Bowen, how are you?"
"Oh, I`m fine, thank you. And you?" she asked.
"I`m okay, thanks." She hesitated, and Finula realised she had a favour to ask. "I wonder, Mrs Owen, you seem to be getting on well with Mr Lough. Do you think you could ask him if he would have a word with Zeta. Only.... her boys have been suspended from the Stick and Cane Primary school, because they do not conform to their dress codes?"
"I`ll certainly ask, Tilda, but I can`t promise anything. After all, we are bereavement specialists," said Finula. Then she had to smile inwardly as she noticed the large, dark-blue Cadbury`s mug, filled to the brim with hot chocolate, which was starting to go cold, waiting patiently on the counter, next to the keyboard. Close by were two boxes of Dunnox tea cakes, and an open box of Optivita stood next to an empty, white bowl which contained a spoon. There was, also, a red-topped bottle of milk.
Aware that Finula might make a comment about what she had seen, Tilda said, "I`m just about to have my breakfast. Mr Lough doesn`t mind as we don`t open until nine-thirty, and I don`t let the clients see me, anyway."
"I wasn`t going to say a thing," said Finula, as she opened the door to go through to Mr Lough`s office. "I`ll see you later, Tilda." She closed the door went across the waiting-room, knocked on Lough`s door, and went in. Her boss was dozing in his chair behind his desk."He seems quite old, really," she thought. "Just like Father John, when I was doing his housework. Heigh-ho. Must get on."
Finula closed the door firmly, so as to waken Lough from his slumber.
"Oh," he said, opening his eyes," must have dropped off reading these boring notes from the minutes of the last staff-meeting." He paused, and then continued, "Which reminds me." Again, he paused and then said, " I`m sorry, my dear, I didn`t intend to be rude. Good morning, Finula, how are you?"
"I`m very well, thank you, Mister Lough, as I trust you are?" said Finula. "I`m all ready for another exciting day."
"Well, I`m glad of that," said Lough, "because there`s plenty to do." Another pause. "Shall we start with some tea? The kettle is over there. It will need some water. I`ve already put a cup in it." Finula put down her bag, took off her coat and hung it up. Then she went over to the kettle. She took off the lid. True to his word, Lough had, indeed, put a cup in it. "Oh, Mister Lough," she called out, "I see you weren`t joking." As she took the cup out of the kettle, she could see Lough smiling. "Just my little joke," he said.
Within minutes, the tea having been made, and Finula on her chair, notepad in hand, Lough said, "We have a lot to do. First, my associate, Mister Flushing, is going to come in, and after the introductions, he is going to take me to the Partners` Meeting. This is usually held in The Sojourner`s Rest, a small hotel along the road. You will not be required for that, Finula, as Mister Flushing usually takes the minutes. Anyway, you would most likely be very bored, because after the usual business, the partners go on at great length about their own lives. So, I think I have spared you that."
"Well, if it`s all right with you, Mister Lough, I`ll get on with the office work, and have things ready for when you return," Finula said enthusiastically.
Lough stood up and said, "That will be ideal. When I return, I will want you to drive me to Ormskirk, and we will have lunch in Morrissons, followed by some shopping in the town. Later on, this afternoon, I must pay a call on one of the clients. She lives just outside Ormskirk. But more of that later."
No sooner had Lough finished, when there was a loud knock on the door, which opened before anybody could say ," Come in."
"This is Mister Flushing, my associate," said Lough. The rather large, balding man, wearing rimless spectacles, held out his hand to Finula. As they shook hands, Flushing said, "I`ve heard a lot about you, Finula. You can call me W.C. They really are my initials, and I`m proud of them, even though people have made fun of my name throughout my life."
"Pleased to meet you," said Finula with a smile. "Can I help you on with your coat, Mister Lough?" Moments later, the two solicitors had left for their appointment and Finula got down to work. She was so busy that the time seemed to fly, for when Tilda knocked and entered, it was already eleven thirty.
"Sorry to bother you, Mrs Bowen," she said," but Mr Lough will be back shortly, and he will want some tea before he goes out for his lunch."
"Thank you, for that, Tilda," said Finula, glad to be stopped from working too hard. "I was about to stop, anyway." Then, just before she left the room, Tilda paused and asked, "I don`t want to put too much pressure on you, but I don`t suppose you had the chance to ask Mr Lough if he could take my friend`s case?"
"He can`t, Tilda, but I made some enquiries and discovered that there is a local firm which can do that sort of work. They are called `Phibbs and Lyes`. She handed a card to Tilda, which had the name, address and `phone number. Tilda expressed her thanks, and left. Finula tidied up and prepared the tea as soon as she heard Mr Lough come into the building. He was alone and came into the office.
"Ah, just what I need," he gasped as he saw the cup full of tea, and he plonked himself in his chair and sipped from the cup. "WC has gone for his lunch, and so must we," said Lough. He drained his cup, hoisted himself up and came to the front of his unrecognisable desk. "I`ll have to get used to seeing my office in a different light," he said. "Now then, Lass, are you ready for a bite to eat?"
"Yes, Mister Lough, I am," said Finula. "Do you want me to drive?"
"Of course, my dear. Here are the keys," he said with a smile.
In the outer office, Finula detected the smell of cannabis and realised that the Goths must have been in again. She also noticed the two empty marshmallow boxes next to the Cadbury`s mug, again filled with hot chocolate, but she didn`t make any comment to Tilda. Mr Lough had noticed these items also, and as soon as they were outside, he said, "That girl must spend a large amount of her wages on chocolate biscuits. And another thing, I`m sure she must be smoking something. I`ve never caught her at it, but her room always reeks of it." Finula kept her own counsel.
They were soon on the M57 and heading for Ormskirk. As they were passing through Maghull, Finula could not help mentioning that she used to work for an old priest, there, and mentioned his name. After a while, Mr Lough said, "I knew that old priest. When I found out that he had died, I attended his funeral. I had met him some years before, at a relative`s funeral, and when we were introduced, we both realised that we were related." He paused, reflecting. " He was a cousin on my mother`s side. Much older than me,of course. Although, someone who knew us both, said how alike we were, in habits and mannerisms. And, Lass, I`ve not been totally unaware of the occasions when you have called me `Father John`, and then corrected yourself."
Finula continued driving, not knowing what to say, but it didn`t matter now that she knew about Mr Lough. Soon, they were entering Morrissons` car park, and heading for the `disabled` parking. She cracked the joke that her friend would often make to the old priest when he took him to the same car park. " Oh, look, Mr Lough, it says `badge holders only`. Have you got bad shoulders today?" Lough appreciated the humour and they both made for the entrance. As they entered Lough said," I will be with you shortly. I must go and wash my hands."
Finula went to the cafe to look at the menu, and when she had decided on the baked potato, topped with tuna and side salad, she went to see where Lough was. By now, he was talking to a woman, who was behind the Customer Service counter. Finula could just make out what he was saying. "Not for the first time have I used this establishment, only to find out that there is no soap in either the gents or the disabled toilet." The woman apologised and said she would look into the matter, and Lough headed for the cafe.
"You heard what I was saying," he said to Finula. "It is the same situation each time I come in here, and that is not very often."
Once in the queue, Lough ordered a portion of scampi and chips. Finula filled two teapots and placed her order. Moments later, they were at their table by the window, overlooking the carpark, and sipping their tea. Suddenly, Lough said, "Be careful not to get their attention,when you look, but that couple over there are married."
Finula had heard Lough make the same remark in the tearooms, but played along with him. "How do you know that, Mister Lough ?" she asked.
"They came to see me about a relative`s will, last week, of course. You didn`t think I was going to repeat yesterday`s joke, did you?" Finula smiled weakly, as they both sipped from their cups. Soon, the small waitress arrived with their food and they began. As soon as they were finished, they headed for the shopping area, and Finula went to get a trolley for each of them. She was not going to buy too much, as she knew that Luke would be taking her home in his truck. They went into the vegetable section, where a young woman had just bought some potatoes, covered in earth. Her young son, who was only about four, said," Couldn`t we have bought some clean ones, Mummy?" Finula thought how clever and observant the little boy was.
After about twenty minutes, they were back at the car again. As she was helping Lough into the car, Finula could not help noticing a grandmother telling off another four year old who had apparently run away from her, and was standing on the kerb, next to the barrier. It was obvious to her what was being said because the boy crouched down and, pointing to the kerb with a dramatic gesture, worthy of a much older person, demonstrated that he was standing where he had been told to stand and nowhere else.
Once in the car, Lough said, "Before we go and visit our client, I feel I must put you in the picture, about the situation. We are going to see a widow called Celia Whyte- Cliffe. She and her husband moved up here from Dover, many years ago, and so were tarred with the joke that nearly drove them insane. Try to be sensible if she cracks it in front of you. She told me she always says it first so as to avoid hearing it from others."
"I`ll be careful, Mister Lough. You can rely on me," said Finula.
"Now, you said, yesterday, that it would help in your work, if you knew more about each client. Well, Mrs Whyte-Cliffe told me, just after her husband`s funeral, that they had not been very happy for many years, and, in effect, had led separate lives for quite some time. She played golf and had her own friends, and he did his own thing. Gardening seemed to be a pre-occupation of his and he was a secret `twitcher`, by all accounts. Apparently, that only came to light just before his death."
"Ooo, I know what a `twitcher` is, Mister Lough, it`s a birdwatcher, isn`t it ?" said Finula, getting the piece of information in first, so that he wouldn`t have to explain it to her.
"Yes, that`s right," said Lough," and that`s the whole point of his demise." He paused. "Mrs Whyte-Cliffe wasn`t as knowledgeable as you, and misunderstood what her husband was saying, moments before he died." Again, Lough paused, as if searching for the words to express his thoughts.
"Mrs Whyte-Cliffe was at great pains to tell me how her husband died, using the lawyer-client confidentiality clause. Apparently, he was upstairs, in the back bedroom, kneeling on the window -ledge, and hanging half out of the open window. He was shouting to his neighbour, Barry, who was up a ladder pruning his trees, to lop the tops off his leylandia, when his wife entered the room, anxious to know what all the shouting was about. She told me that all she heard was, "Lop the tops, a bit, will you, Barry, as I can`t see the bird in the house over there at the back."
She said she was so incensed by what she had heard, and by what she had seen, namely a pair of high-magnification binoculars on a tripod and a camera with a long-range lens on the window ledge, that she did not stop to think." Lough paused again, looking for the words to explain as clearly as possible.
"The wife told me that she rushed across the room to grab hold of her husband, to pull him in, as she was so jealous, even though things were more than strained in the household. Unfortunately, instead of grabbing hold she tipped him out of the window, and he fell. She also knew, in that split second, that the neighbour was facing away from the house as he was climbing the ladder, and couldn`t possibly have seen her. And so she rushed downstairs to the toilet, flushed it and then rushed into the back garden, to find Barry climbing over the wall to attend to her husband.
As Barry told the police, "Just after George fell, as Mrs Whyte-Cliffe has already said, I heard their downstairs toilet being flushed, and moments later, she appeared in the garden, having said that she had heard the dull thud of the body, contacting the ground, just as she had finished in the toilet."
"That sounds very involved to me," said Finula. "What you are saying is, that taking account of all that she has told you, she had more than a little to do with the death of her husband, the motive being her misguided jealously of another woman."
"Yes," said Lough. "And now, I have to go and tell her some more bad news, namely that George had secretly changed his will, some time ago, and that she no longer featured in it."
"I think I`ve recovered from that enough to drive you to her house," said Finula. "Which way do we go?" Lough gave instructions, and Finula drove through Ormskirk, out past the old Jospice building and soon arrived at the house. It was a large one in substantial gardens, a driveway leading from the road. On Lough`s instructions, Finula drove up the path, and they got out.
A healthy sixty-something woman, wearing a headscarf and gardening clothes, approached, trowel in hand. "Hello, Mister Lough, won`t you and your assistant come in?" she asked. She opened the large front door and they all entered. Finula noticed the downstairs toilet, because the door had been left open, and she tried to ignore the part it had played in somebody`s death.
They were ushered into the drawing room and sat down. Lough opened the conversation. "From what I gather, Mrs Whyte-Cliffe, the police were convinced that your husband`s death was accidental, from what the only known witness, Barry Brothers, told them. Therefore, the insurance company will pay out. However, unbeknown to you, your husband changed his will, and you will not inherit a penny."
"Please continue," said Mrs Whyte-Cliffe, after Lough had paused for about a minute to let all this sink in. "Well, the house is now the problem. Under the terms of the will, he has left it and everything else to a birds` society, and as you have no children, it looks as if you are going to be on your own. It would be my advice that you challenge the will, although it may be costly, because you might have nowhere to live. I suggest you think about what I have said, and make another appointment to see me."
Everybody stood at this point Lough and Finula headed back to the office. "That poor, woman," said Finula."She stands to lose everything."
"I will try my hardest to see that she is all right," said Lough. "One thing I have learned in this job is not to take home the problems of the day, and so, put this case out of your mind, and tell me what your plans are for your holidays."
After a pleasant journey, they arrived back in the High Street. Luke had parked his truck in a pay and display space near the office, and was chatting to Tilda when Lough and Finula came in. He had been sharing a box of Dunnox`s best and a mug of chocolate with Tilda. "Hello, Finula. Mister Lough," he said.
"How d`ye do, Lad," said Lough. "I think you had better take your Lass home. She`s had a long day."
"Thanks. I will," said Luke. "Come on, Fiona. Goodnight all."