In which Emma B treats of masters, hair in buns and people with silly names
Chudleigh College seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had existed for over a century at the heart of Dorlich with very little to distress or vex it. There was a Chudleigh way of doing things – and everyone else’s’.Woe betide transgressors of time-hallowed codes.
Life revolved around the Boarding House; the Chapel; the Army Corps and the Games Field. Lessons were taught on Saturday; exeats replaced holidays and the school employed masters rather than teachers.
Oh brave new world that hath such people in it? She was cast adrift in treacherous waters without a lifebelt…A working day at Oaks Haven concluded at 4pm and staff returned to hearth and home by 5pm at the latest. At Chudleigh, a 7pm end to lessons preceded prep; staff supervision of homework on a rotational basis.
The Masters’ Common Room with its bountiful drinks cabinet was an essential perk; several glasses of single malt were natural precursors to several more in The Falcon and Paul invariably arrived home late and the worse for wear.
She bit her tongue and held her nose. The wheels of Chudleigh were oiled by alcohol.
Masters had a drinks tab and were required to settle with the Bursar at the end of term. Invariably, individuals forgot to record a quick tipple between classes.
Questions were asked when the Head of Spanish failed to return after the summer vacation; he had been dismissed forthwith after being apprehended in the act of charging three bottles of Bollinger and a magnum of Pol Roger to the School Chaplain. Consumption slumped – and then returned to normal, after a decent interval. Paul’s colleagues prided themselves upon character and made witty quips about Division Two – Chudleigh-speak for state schools like Oaks Haven. In reality, they competed in eccentricities of behaviour that were mannered and faintly absurd.
Chester and Dorian Chase were a husband and wife team in the English Department. Chester resembled a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig and favoured billowing cloaks and fedora hats. He was rarely seen without a drink - even during lessons - and delighted his charges with a medley of bonhomie, barbarity and music hall: Now you little bastards – JUMP TO IT!!! -- First ten lines of Lycidas! Tanqueray – lets hear your pearls of wisdom! Sweeping into class twenty minutes late and leaping onto the table) Come on Tanqueray – Lycidas/poem/Milton – comprenez-moi bien?!!!!!
Sir ( Tanqueray).
Sir ---- you’ve just farted.
Well, what if I bloody have?!!!!! (Points a cigarette lighter in the direction of his nether regions).
A FART’S GOT NO NOSE!!!!!
Cue for shouts of Good old Chasey………
Dorian’s nickname was The Gryphon and physical short-comings were offset by sartorial choices that were flamboyant and singular. She scampered from room to room in voluminous Ali Baba pantaloons; head bobbing and breasts swinging; untroubled by corsetry.
A photograph of her enormous veined breast, attached to a child, adorned a classroom wall. She was supposedly brilliant; uninhibited and a fantastic cook.
It was also whispered that her real name was Doris.
Paul’s stance towards the Chases was typified by sycophantic abasement and her heart sank when he breezed in from Chudleigh, waving an invitation:
Chester and Dorian are having a soiree! Chop chop – frock and heels!
She was then compelled to drop everything in favour of an excruciating four hours chez Chase, skulking with the Chudleigh matrons, whilst the husbands paid court to Dorian.
The Chases lived in school accommodation; two floors of a spacious Georgian terrace, smothered with drapes; children (there were six); periodicals; plants and books. The effect was Bohemian raffish and she suspected that Dorian had spent at least an hour beforehand, deliberately untidying everything. Chester was in charge of music – normally some detestable madrigal ensemble - and drink – in abundance. Dorian squatted in the midst of a patchwork floor cushion, wearing a diaphanous silk something , picking her toes and squealing about the minor works of Charlotte Perkins Gilmour or Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
Too, too, wonderful – just simply SCRUMPTIOUS.
Paul nodded earnestly – until Dorian broke off mid-flow, swooping into the kitchen from whence she emerged bearing trays of intricate canapés. Cue for a collective intake of breath:
Such a brilliant cook; how does she find the time; cordon bleu trained ---- this is SO SUPER……….. YUM YUM.
She sat with Betty, checking her watch and avoiding the food. Beneath the stage-managed clutter, the house was rather dirty. The bath plug was laced with hairs and the encrustation of the toilet seat was unspeakable.
On these occasions, Betty was a comrade in arms. The Chases boasted an ‘open marriage’, which gave Chester a free hand with the French Assistante and Dorian licence to pounce on the male of least resistance.
Whether she would have availed herself of these opportunities without Chester’s pioneering groundwork was a moot point – but in practice, she had made a grab at David amongst others, during rehearsals for the staff production of Bartholomew Fair.
Betty, as wardrobe mistress, had gone backstage to fit David’s jerkin – but had been unprepared to discover Dorian helping him out of it – and the bottle green hose that completed the costume.
Had Paul availed himself of forbidden fruit? Betty’s loyal assurances were less than convincing and a miserable evening, plus an abundance of Mr Weston’s good wine, produced a predictable contretemps:
Really darling, couldn’t you have made just the teensiest effort? Dorian went to a tremendous amount of trouble and you didn’t even thank her for the food. Those Angels on Horseback were divine! Who could resist?
Well, you obviously couldn’t! The way you cling to her every word is bizarre! She’s Ottoline Morell on a bad day. The ‘scrumptious’ work of Charlotte Perkins Gilmour!! – pretentious cow!
Dorian is a person whose opinion I respect (puffing his pipe; pouring a cognac – over and out).
Thirty years later, she called into the Fengrove bookshop to collect her pre-ordered copy of Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, and there it was: Dorian Chase will be in store on Thursday 24th June at 7. 45 pm to sign copies of her new novel: His Infinite Variety; shortlisted for the Jessamy Gage European Fiction Prize. She fingered the volume, wincing at the cover photograph of Michelangelo’s David and read the biographical blurb: Dorian Chase lectures in Women’s Writing at the University of Brinmore. His Infinite Variety is her eighth novel; she has written two volumes of short stories and edits the Literary Review for the Sentinel on Sunday. Dorian Chase was a teacher of English at Chudleigh College and her former husband, Chester Chase, is the present Headmaster of Chudleigh. She has six children.
A black and white photograph of Dorian, swathed in shawls with hair in a Doris Lessing bun topped the piece.
A cursory flick through the pages revealed that Dorian; garlanded with honours; feted on Radio 4 and regular guest on every television Arts programme in existence – was in essence, unchanged. Characters, as usual, belonged to a type of literary elite – everyone lectured in English and embarked upon steamy affairs during weekend parties at someone’s place in the country. The women were Daphnis or Lydie; men were Johnno and Oscar and they whinged about questing and reading – whilst squirming in a damp patch of semen after another less than satisfactory sexual bout.
His Infinite Variety was wedged next to Villette and the latest biography of Charlotte Bronte, with a picture of the author, hair scraped from her face in the familiar knot.
She looked at Dorian, bought the Bronte biography and left the shop