Spicy peruses my CV, nodding from time to time, then fusses with the kettle that’s boiling.
‘The High Master passed me your application for the English post in Uppers.’
A priest? On drugs?
‘I’m afraid that’s been filled but we’re looking for someone down here.’
‘And out!’ suddenly from the radio.
Spicy reaches for a plate of custard creams. ‘They’re my guilty pleasure,’ he says offering them. ‘Whenever we get a wicket. Sounds like we’ve got the Aussies on the run.’
I still have half an eye on the Major Match. ‘They’re are not so strong now most have defected to Packer.’ I take a biscuit. ‘Thanks.’ Munch.
‘True,’ says Spicy returning to the kettle. ‘Though maybe it’ll change the game for the better in the long run. More money for the players.’
I find myself exclaiming. ‘Oh good catch!’ Turning guiltily back to Spicy, and wiping some spluttered custard cream from my blazer I can see he’s following my gaze, nodding.
‘What do you think of the ground, Robert?’
There’s a large roller parked by the pavilion steps under blue skies. Strips of white. ‘The nets look in good nick.’
‘The main bays are at Home Acres near the pitch and putt.’ Spicy pulls out tea bags. ‘What did you make of your guide? We’re very proud of him. He’s off to read PPE at Maud’s.’
‘The next Norman Lamont.’ He dangles two teabags. ‘Now, Robert, are you a Piaget or Pavlov man?’ Jiggles the teabags.
Is he talking about tea? I know there are different types, like Lapsong something, or China, but tea’s tea to me. Normally PG Tips. What’s a safe answer? ‘Um. I’ve no real preference. I take things as they come.’
Spicy raises an eyebrow, drops a bag, pours water, stirs a cup, before handing me it. ‘I see from your CV that you were captain of cricket at your school. What was that like, Robert?’
What was it like?
My school was football mad. Anyone who was anyone played footie and the girls flocked round them. The only alternative for those like me who were crap at football was to play hockey, which was regarded as a joke. A girls’ game. Cricket was also regarded as a vastly inferior game; practically for girls. Being captain was no big deal.
Spicy’s waiting for my answer. Taking a sip of his tea.
‘It was a steep learning curve. Taught me a lot.’
He nods. ‘And what qualities do you think you need to be a leader?’
Good question. ‘I think and read about the game a lot, and I’m competitive.’ I recall how dad and others captained me. ‘And I try to give constructive criticism. Encourage. Help confidence.’
Snippets from Trent Bridge interrupt as Spicy speaks about staff “expectations.” If appointed I am to do “prep duties” – that word again - and teach “up to CE.” Doesn’t that stand for Church of England? I’m no clearer.
Spicy places a lot of emphasis on sport and cricket in particular. ‘I think we may have fallen behind our rivals,’ he says before informing me that staff are requested ‘not to wear corduroy trousers.’
What’s wrong with cords? They’re OK if the flares are big enough. And in purple.
He also tells me that he’s keen to ‘inject a little youth and vitality’ into his staff. ‘Someone with real life experience, not just the usual templates.’
There are other questions, like when Spicy asks about “swots.” What about them?
I remember how I laughed at swots at school, their noses always in books, thinking they should get out more. Can he mean them? ‘It’s about getting the balance right. I work hard but play hard as well.’
Spicy nods. ‘Now I know English is your main suit, but it’s really your Drama I’m interested in. Could you take that if we wanted you to?’
Hmmm. Crunch time. Should I tell him the truth? That I’ve never taught drama. Or lie through my teeth? Bluff? After all, it might make all the difference.
Taking a sip of tea, I flash back to a review in my school mag of my performance as Sebastian in a production of “The Tempest” describing me as “man of the match,” where “his evident enthusiasm made up for his slight stature.” To college where I’d had fun performing in a hectic production of “Run For Your Wives.” To that Am Dram stuff, hamming it up for laughs. Watching that bit of Berkoff. ‘Never seen anything like it.’ Is Fitzrovia ready for that? Am I?
‘Great. Love to. I was hoping you might ask.’ Ha!
Maybe I shouldn’t have “bigged up” my drama after all. But then again, how difficult can it be to teach? Be a tree. That’s the standing joke isn’t it? And there’d be no marking would there?
And it might make all the difference.
‘Because I feel it’s a subject that we should encourage,’ Spicy continues. ‘The Arts; sport; I’m very keen that we produce well-rounded individuals, not just academic hot-house flowers. What do you think?’
About gardening? ‘Um. My dad grew vegetables. Valued them as much as his flowers in the cold frame. Sport and drama have given me the chance to make friends.’
‘Yes. And I see you’ve played hockey to a good standard. I’m afraid the boys play football second term, but maybe the girls could do with some help?’
‘If they want help, I’d be happy to give it a go.’
Eventually, he beckons me to the window. ‘Robert, what practical advice would you give to the boy who’s batting now?’
More cricket. He still hasn’t asked about my favourite Shakespeare play. Or anything about literature. I watch the boy play a couple of balls. ‘I’d get him to commit more, rather than playing half cock. They’ll have him LBW or bowled if he sticks like that.’
‘Actually he’s scored quite a few runs already this season; got a fifty last Saturday.’
There’s a big shout from outside.
‘Out,’ says Spicy. ‘Clean bowled.’
‘He played half cock.’
Spicy nods. ‘And what about the field placings?’
They’re all over the place. ‘Not bad, but really you want an in-out field for an off spinner. And six three, not five four. Long leg’s wasted.’
‘And what would you advise if it’s a leggie?’
Simple. Dad was a leg spin bowler. ‘That depends how much the ball’s turning, but I’d have a long off and a deep mid wicket, as cover, and a slip, gully and short leg to attack. Not an easy ground to defend.’
Eventually, tea and questions exhausted, another guide escorts me back to reception. She’s about four feet tall with plaits.
‘Our Head Girl,’ says Spicy.
Ha! She’s no more than twelve and wears glasses, with a tartan kilt way below her knees. Sandals.
Spicy holds out his hand. ‘Any questions?’
Why isn’t her blouse hanging out? Where are her ripped tights under a mini skirt? How can she be Head Girl at twelve? Why haven’t you asked about my desert island book? Or my favourite Shakespeare play? What sort of school is this?
‘We’ll be in touch,’ he says. ‘Thank you for coming.’
The Major Match is still in progress as we walk away from Spicy’s office; the sound of someone painfully bashing out Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” on a piano somewhere.
‘Looks an important game,’ I say to my guide trying to ignore the murderous honky tonk.
She gives it the briefest glimpse. ‘It’s only a junior House match.’ As we pass another creeper-covered building, “Memorial Library,” she nods at my blazer. ‘Your badge.’
‘It’s for cricket.’ It’s also sagging from the pocket. Stitches torn.
‘You’ve got a funny voice,’ she continues. ‘Where do you come from?’
Is she taking the mickey? Being “saucy”? Turning her bold eyes on me, she speaks like Princess Anne. ‘Are you coming to work here? I wish you were. Most of our beaks are fossils.’
‘Except our new PE teacher. She’s really nice.’While Princess Anne chatters happily, I try to repair my badge, only succeeding in making more fibres run.
‘Oh Miss!’ A young woman in sports clothes crosses our path, her aertex shirt pulling firm across her chest. ‘This is who I was telling you about,’ Princess Anne says to me.
The woman’s carrying a stick-like fishing net and has tightly curled dark hair. ‘Hello there.’ Her eyes are bright and her teeth gleam under a dazzling smile. Miss Dazzle.
I can feel heat in my cheeks.
‘He’s come for a job,’ says Princess Anne. ‘That badge is for sport.’
It’s hanging by a thread. Dangling.
Miss Dazzle’s laughing, trying to cover her mouth. She’s tanned and healthy looking as if she spends all day out in the sun. Recovering her composure she speaks. ‘Are you here for the General post?’
Am I? Does she think I’m delivering letters?
‘Mister Corrie-Anderson’s keen on sport and lowering the average age of the common room.’ She sounds like an officer, is intimidating, but very cute. ‘He’s just appointed two more to take the rugby and football. One of them plays for Kent.’ She waves the net-like thing, flashes me another smile. ‘Sorry, but I must dash; practice. Nice to meet you and good luck.’ Maybe Miss Dazzle’s going paddling with Prince Charles.
Lucky bastard. I watch her disappear into the distance. Dazzled.
We pass Prince Charles with someone. Another candidate? He’s got a dodgy side parting, short hair; wears brogues and a tweed suit. ‘Do you get many exeat weekends?’ I hear him squeak. What?
Back at reception, Hovis Hair gets me to fill out a travel claim. ‘Have a safe journey home.’ Is there a hint of a smirk on her face?
I could do with a drink. Reaching the car park, a new Mini with a girl in the driving seat roars away showering me with grit. A Bentley’s parked close. Only then do I see the headlights on the Anglia dimly glowing. ‘Oh no!’ Looking round again at the buildings, I get in and turn the key. ‘Bollocks!’
I fiddle the key again. ‘Please.’ Not even a click, just the scrunch of gravel getting louder outside before someone knocks on the window. Looking out, I feel like I’ve been bowled first ball.
‘You dropped this.’ Chisel Face’s holding my blazer badge. It’s covered in grime and bits of grit. Gold threads tattered. Run over. ‘Got a problem?’
‘I seem to have a flat battery.’
Chisel Face rolls his eyes. There’s a group in the distance that he hails. Prince Charles is among them as they stroll over. All are giants in printed white vest tops with ‘FCBC’ and crossed oars.
‘Sir?’ It’s that Viscount Ashbury again. If he so much as smiles...
Chisel Face turns to leave. ‘Can you give this chap a hand? I’ve got Steering Committee.’
Prince Charles has his hand on the car roof. ‘Hello again. Is this yours?’ One of the others is pointing and laughing.
‘Come on, chaps,’ says Viscount Ashbury. ‘Let’s show him some boat club muscle.’
It’s late by the time I reach the familiar skyline of Grimston, smoke billowing from chimneys. I’ve spent the journey listening over and over to my cassettes trying to work out what sort of place I’ve just visited. Am I any the wiser?
Pulling over I can see the glow of the telly in the front room. What’s mum doing up?
She puts down her knitting. ‘How did it go?’
‘You’d need to have been there.’
‘What do you mean?’
I recall the rowing eight pushing the car, the talk of “Maud’s” and the kids walking the grounds in their time warp. My platform shoes and Crimpleen trousers. ‘I dunno.’
‘Did they ask about your strengths and weaknesses?’
Spicy talked about swots. So that’s what he meant! ‘Sort of.’
‘You’ll take it if they offer it won’t you?’
I visualise Chisel Face peering at my long hair and flares, returning my badge. ‘They won’t.’
‘But you liked it?’
I picture the honey coloured buildings, the manicured grounds and Miss Dazzle. ‘There were some good bits. I’m going to bed.’
Upstairs I pull out “Dark Side of the Moon” before hunting out an old French dictionary, alert to what Chisel Face had said to Hovis Hair. I find what I’m looking for under “sayings.” “Un completement depayse.” A fish out of water.
‘Tosser.’ I begin searching for something else. A book with a group of lads with wheelbarrows on the front called “The White House Boys.”
Floyd are singing. “…Money, get away, get a good job with more pay and you’re OK…”
Flicking pages prompts me that it’s set in a preparatory boarding school. A Prep school for kids up to thirteen, who are called Teddy or “The Duke” and sleep in dorms. Homework is prep. Day pupils are called Oppidans. They all take exams called Common Entrance to join the big school where prefects wear gowns. If they’re ill Matron or Sister looks after them in the Sanatorium.
Teachers are beaks wearing tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows who drink sherry in the common room, chat about gay days ‘on fizz’ at Magdalene or Pembroke colleges, Henley regatta and House matches. Parents have names like Lord Lomley, live a long way away, drive Rovers and pick up their children for exeat weekends at home. There’s a Cadet Force, chapel on Sundays and games of nail biting cricket with talk of Fair Play.
A school for “toffs”.
“…Money, it’s a hit. Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit, I’m in the high fidelity first class travelling jet…”
So that’s what Fitzrovia is. And Prince Charles, Viscount Ashbury and Princess Anne, like Trevor Bailey have all been born with a silver spoon.
And what about Chisel Face? Miss Dazzle? Spicy?
I lie in the dark, contemplating, listening as a new Floyd track develops. “…Us, us, us, us, us, and them, them, them, them…”
Them and us. And I’m not one of them. I feel anger rising. Well bugger them; I don’t want the job anyway.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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“Money” and “Us and Them.” Pink Floyd.
Is there anyone who doesn’t own a copy of “Dark Side of the Moon”?
OK, so these are obvious tracks, but that’s what it was like for me. Once an album had insinuated itself, it was liable to be on the turntable for ages. I’d started early with Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun”, though truth to tell I hadn’t really dug it as much as I was supposed to – you know, mates who say “you’re bound to like this.” “Dark Side of the Moon” changed my perceptions of Floyd, and since, I’ve gone on to listen to loads, including one of my faves, “The Division Bell.” Helps that the album pic is of somewhere I spent half my teaching life and that the music reminds me of a particularly kaleidoscopically happy evening with friends near Northampton.
It’s Too Late - Carole King
Taken from the “Tapestry” album of 1971, this was a jukebox staple for me at college. Just loved the piano riff and the understated vocals. Great hook lines as well and that sexy sax. The whole album catapulted King still further into the folk pop stratosphere – let’s not forget she was releasing singles like “It Might As Well Rain Until September” back in the early 60’s. There are some songs I truly never tire of; this one’s one of those.
About the Curator: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!