© G K Kingsley
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When Derek Fitztumbleton sat down for breakfast with his wife that November Monday morning, he had no reason to believe he’d be dining with a transvestite by the end of the week. He also had no reason to believe he’d be staring at a stripper’s buttocks by elevenses; but then that was an understandable assumption for a headmaster to make. So what Derek did, whilst his life was temporarily continuing as it always had, was focus on the more pressing issues that could occupy an ambitious man.
“I think I’ll have to back down on the scarecrows,” he announced, as he jabbed at his scrambled eggs. “Sandra Lovelock has a point when she says The Call could come from Ofsted any day now. We need to be prepared.”
Miranda stood up as he said it, her chair dragging across the mock-tiled floor, and walked surprisingly gracefully for a woman of her size over to the sink. As she left the table, a waft of perfume sauntered up Derek’s nose and he found himself distracted by the novelty of the smell; but only for a split second. After that he discarded the thought, for things like perfume were mere fripperies to occupy the minds of the underwhelmed and he really did have more important things to deal with.
She began to wash up.
“That flasher struck again outside M&S this weekend you know, Derek,” she muttered. “Pippa Nelson was there. She said it made her day.”
Derek frowned. A wistful tone had crept into her voice which was beginning to seep through to a deeper level in his consciousness. But fifteen years of marriage were not to be sniffed at, so he concluded that a wistful tone could also be ignored and picked up the pupil progress figures by his side instead.
None of this was unusual, of course, for Miranda and Derek had ignored each other’s conversations for so long it had reached a point where it might have appeared rude if one of them had suddenly taken an interest. It would certainly have destroyed the status quo upon which he had come to rely, even if that was foolishly remiss.
However, now Miranda began to hum.
As Derek surveyed the peaks and troughs of his graphs, the scrape of his wife’s tuneless melody wormed its way across the hills and dales of a song and ate into his psyche like a maggot. Squirm, squirm, squirm, it went, wriggling and writhing like a nagging doubt, insistently gnawing and biting, until finally... the moment arrived.
Something, he realised at last, required his consideration. He gave his balding head a good scratch.
First off, Miranda never wore perfume unless it was an important occasion. He’d always been relieved that deodorant was included within her daily routine, but perfume had seemed an unnecessary expense; he had also appreciated her thrift.
Secondly, she never talked about flashers. In fact, he wasn’t sure he’d even heard her use the word before so this was definitely a new one on him. But, seeing as it was impossible to pigeon hole the perceived sentiment at this juncture, he wondered if it was one that could be put to the side for the time being.
Which still left the third yet most notable item; namely that she absolutely never, ever hummed.
Derek put his report down on the table and cleared his throat.
“You’re looking all dressed up today, darling. WI trip, is it? Or have I forgotten something important?”
Miranda turned to look at him and frowned. “I’ve put your clean underpants in the airing cupboard,” she replied, and then dropped her marigolds into the bin and hummed her way out of the room.
By eight o’clock Derek had left the civilised sanctuary of Cockerby Town, bracing himself for another working day in the rural backwater of Lower Bushey and blissfully unaware of what was yet to come.
By ten to nine, the playground was packed with screaming kids.
From their lofty location five feet three inches above the ground, Derek’s eyes surveyed his fragile, financially famished domain, and he prepared his remaining senses for another week.
Fuck ‘em! Fuck ‘em all! he thought in quick succession, and then waited for the calming wash of indifference to soothe his beleaguered soul. It was a daily ritual he had carried out ever since he’d been appointed and it had served him well for seven years. Some might think it to be a disturbing strategy for an educationalist, but in truth it had nothing to do with a troubled mind yet to be ensnared by the CRB checking system. No, in fact Derek had a lot of time for fastidious record keeping, and he therefore wholly approved of the pointless waste of millions of pounds each year to verify that nobody was a problem. That sort of thing meant that a box could be ticked and he liked ticking boxes very much. He also liked percentages, pie charts, and graphs that went up on the right hand side... But all that was by the by. For what Derek had really struggled with as soon as he’d started at the school – putting aside the mildew and peeling paint – was a knuckle-whitening frustration that knew no bounds. Despite all that he had scrutinised, measured and tracked, the young buggers within had insisted on pursuing a passion for mediocrity which had fought against his efforts at every turn. And so, as with seven years’ worth of previous Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, he felt that this Monday was no exception.
As the phrase formed in his head for a second time, a pair of enormous four year old eyes frowned back. With an awkward flush, Derek realised that he had unwittingly mouthed his thoughts, and in an effort to cover his tracks said out loud, “Fun, fun, fun,” making a big play of shaping the word carefully with his lips, and then waved to the Reception teacher, Miss Newby, who was on duty. She shot him an unforgiving glare and looked at her watch. Only ten minutes playtime left, the gesture said; why don’t you focus on your paperwork, Mr Fitztumbleton, and leave the kids’ stuff to us? Derek nodded. Perhaps she was right; a coffee would put him back on track and he could show his face again in a few minutes for the sake of a bit of PR.
His decision took him back inside, past his secretary’s office, and on towards the musty hub of the school. As the front door clunked shut somewhere far behind, Derek hoped beyond hope to find the staff room empty and was amply rewarded for his realism to find it wasn’t. Sandra Lovelock’s sloping hanger-like shoulders came into view and he stopped in his tracks with a shudder.
Her beady eye froze him to the spot.
“Ah, Mr Fitztumbleton, I was hoping you were in. There is something I need to discuss with you.”
Derek cringed under the withering stare, an unusual strand of empathy reaching out to those who had had to endure Parents’ Evening with her, and braced himself. What Miss Lovelock’s bony middle-aged exterior hid was not to be underestimated. It was said that she could sniff a lie from forty metres, spot an articulated dodge several seconds before it occurred, and had inclinations that only the most unlikely looking people could have – which, so rumour had it, she also pursued. But, regrettably for Derek, despite this she was an institution that could not be overlooked. With pupil progress results as impressive as hers, to his annual disappointment he had always found he had no grounds on which to sack her.
For two whole seconds he withstood the severity of her glower, dying a little inside as each one ticked by, but finally its power became too strong and his eyes were forced to move south. It was an unfortunate direction to choose, for his gaze then landed squarely on her chest and, despite his years of training, Derek did a double take.
“Well...quite,” slipped from his lips. There was little of note to the starchy frilly shirt, but the same could not have been said of the leather clad ‘A’ cup covertly poking through an unbuttoned gap underneath. If its nose had been any pointier, he’d have sworn it was giving him a sniff.
Horrified, he diverted his focus to a set of instructions on how to unblock the photocopier and cleared his throat.
“I’ll get us a drink, shall I?” he mumbled, and watched from the corner of his eye as she looked down at her chest and flushed. Her delay in responding elicited a thoughtful rub of his chin; this was not an opportunity to miss. “Not sure if I’ve got time for a chat though, Miss Lovelock,” he added slyly, striking whilst her confusion was hot. And then allowed himself to relax a little further as she continued to struggle to reacquaint one side of her shirt with the other. Derek let one more second tick by just for the sake of good manners, and then turned, relieved, to do battle with the drinks machine instead.
The options presented were predictable, but this was as far as the contraption ever allowed one to take things for granted. He cast his eye down the list, giving it some careful thought. Two days of unbroken peace across the space of a weekend tended to make this purveyor of refreshment a flamboyant but unreliable affair. Far more grandiose than any tiny school warranted, it had come their way via a strangely worded legacy and until the governor’s widow joined her husband underground there was little Derek could do about it. So he sighed resignedly, made his selection, and crossed his fingers for good luck.
A disconcerting gurgle erupted from the appliance as it concluded his transaction, and he gingerly reached in and pulled out a steaming brown plastic cup. He looked at the contents with consternation.
It had to be said that the liquid inside was not what he was expecting. True, it was hot and wet, but at that point depiction and reality then diverged. Concern for customer satisfaction clearly stopped at mouth watering descriptions and depended, thereafter, on some sort of warped equivalent of the placebo effect. Derek risked a sniff from a distance and grimaced. Well, he knew nothing about consumer rights, but he had little doubt that enforcers of the Geneva Convention could cite this stuff as a breach of human rights. If a prisoner of war were to turn up on the steps of the school and request refreshment, only God knew what they’d say.
It was a sobering notion, and one that also made him wonder just how many people it took for a conflict to be termed a war. Not an inappropriate question just then, for the sizzle of Miss Lovelock’s furious stare had begun to burn a sizeable hole in his back once more. What had felt like a minor conquest the week before, when he’d boldly refused to let her remove the exhibits from the infants’ scarecrow competition, was now mutating into a foolish attempt at bravado.
Derek heaved a very deep and heartfelt sigh, and resigned himself to his lot. There was only one way to move forward and that was to assume that reasonable rules of engagement were in play – the Geneva Convention being, after all, a well respected modus operandi. It was time to wave the white flag.
“Do you have milk in your coffee?” he asked, turning round to face Sandra properly, aware that she would have recovered from her embarrassment by now and bracing himself for the fearsome look on her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think to ask if you preferred black or white.” He glanced briefly again at the strange fluid purporting to be Costa Rica’s finest and scowled.
“I don’t drink coffee, I drink tea,” she replied, her clothing all ship shape and Bristol fashion once more. “But you never thought to ask that either, did you?”
Her eyes challenged him and then broke away, flicking with derisory disdain towards the ceiling. Derek looked for a third time at the contents of his cup and finally realised with abstract relief that he must have chosen chicken soup by mistake. Well, at least the floating green bits now made sense.
About to offer her a tea instead, he bent over to read the instructions more carefully just as the sound of sensible shoes squelched on the hall linoleum. Mrs McFreece, the school secretary – a.k.a. The Fridge, to those in the know, which didn’t include Mrs McFreece – appeared at the doorway and even Sandra seemed to sink into the background.
“Ashley Milner’s mother has just called. They are running late,” she announced, the Scottish tone of disapproval unmistakeably evident.
Mrs Milner had not endeared herself to the daunting secretary when Ashley had arrived three weeks before. And with Mrs McFreece now looking with such disdain upon the poor child because of it, Derek had not yet plucked up the courage to ask to see the previous school’s pupil notes. He sighed, and allowed divine inspiration to descend.
“Well, we’ll have to mark Ashley down as late, Mrs M. I don’t like the effect it will have on our statistics any more than you do, but honesty is the best policy. The data must be accurate, otherwise what point is there in collecting it in the first place?”
He knew it was the right thing to say. There weren’t many similarities between him and Mrs McFreece, but a love of all things measurable was at least one. The Fridge issued a curt nod of approval and then turned and swayed her ample hips back to her office.
“Well... quite,” Derek sighed for the second time, now taking advantage of the lull in Miss Lovelock’s headlong attack, and sidestepped his way to the door. “Perhaps a swing around the playground in the name of public relations before the day starts will help things along, eh?”
Sandra’s eyes narrowed and her face crumpled into a picture of contempt. She had clearly recovered her momentum now that the secretary had disappeared and it was a look that shouted, ‘You lily-livered coward, I’ve asked for a couple minutes of your time and you’re dodging me,’... which was a fair appraisal of the situation and Derek felt he should grant it recognition... but only once he’d escaped out of the room.
The pupils at Lower Bushey Primary were an oddly shaped collection of children, even for a rural school, and sadly there weren’t nearly as many of them there now as there had been when Derek had started.
For a short while, after his second year in the place and having had time to take in the close-knit nature of some of the families in the village, he had prayed he’d get a child with two heads so he could argue an extra pupil’s worth of money from the council. Needless to say, however, his hopes had never been realised. Lower Bushey was assuredly rural, several decades behind the times, and no doubt interbred. But the local farmers were the first to acknowledge that the rules of genetic reproduction were not something to be ignored unless the deviations were to significantly improve meat yield, fecundity, or quality of fleece.
Taking a deep breath and expunging the horrors of the staff room from his mind, Derek stepped outside for the second time that day and felt the chill sting his cheeks.
He looked around. It was a scene he’d seen more times than he cared to acknowledge and his eyes bounced over the patchy tarmac and decaying basketball net and spotted instead that only a few children were wearing outside clothes. He made a mental note to send a letter home. It never hurt to remind the parents that, despite the toughened hides of their offspring, coats, hats and gloves were still recommended. Actions like that provided excellent evidence to the powers that be – a.k.a. Ofsted – that he regularly communicated with his flock, and also reinforced the notion that the school sat at the heart of the community. It would be another tick in a box.
“Mr Fitztumbleton!” a shrill, Celtic voice cawed from the entrance and broke his train of thought.
As if as one, the groups of chattering mothers instantly huddled together, sympathetic looks darting in his direction. Mrs McFreece never graced the playground with her presence unless it was absolutely necessary; something was afoot.
“There’s a phone call for you!” she added, and Derek, having now spotted the fierce anticipation glowing in her eyes, realised that the playground empathy was misplaced.
Oh... my... God... he thought to himself. This is it. This is the call. The Call! The glint of suppressed excitement shining across at him – a glint so clearly out of place on such an unenthusiastic face – was surely proof enough. He raised an eyebrow and Mrs McFreece nodded back. Derek’s heart skipped a beat. At last! His chance to show the rest of the world how much he had achieved was finally at hand.
Barely aware of the skip in his step, he trotted across, thanking The Fridge for holding the door open for him, and darted into his office.
“He’s on line three,” she puffed, following closely behind, and bent down to put the call through before adding in a rare moment of solidarity, “I’ll go and get us a coffee, shall I?”
Under normal circumstances such an offer would have thrown Derek off the mark, but nothing was going to distract him now. He managed an almost casual nod, as though it were the most natural of exchanges in their working lives, straightened his jacket out unnecessarily, and then leant across to pick the handset up.
It was a short phone call, abrupt and perhaps intended to intimidate, but to Derek it meant the answer to all his prayers. They, a Mr Barnaby de Ravel and a Ms Diana Bonniface, would be arriving on Thursday. It would be a full two day inspection. No stone would be left unturned.
To all but the most foolhardy it was a call that would have spelled impending doom, but to Derek Fitztumbleton it meant redemption. On paper – well, more on screen and particularly in multicoloured graphs – the school looked in reasonable shape. The bar charts and scatter diagrams for the recently completed academic year were all sloping upwards, past national norms and up into the cloud topped peaks of pretty good.
Derek had watched with patient but mounting excitement as this astonishing performance had shone through despite the pupils’ best efforts. He had spotted the statistical aberration early on. And, not daring to question openly what had happened in Lower Bushey eleven years before, had secretly suspected that the fleeting appearance of a nomadic group of geniuses must have somehow affected the gene pool. However, he was also aware that a travelling circus boasting a bearded woman and some reject clowns must have followed closely behind. The figures he’d been looking at only that morning had made it clear that all would be counterbalanced when the following July arrived. Next summer’s school leavers were going to be the worst there’d ever been. With the official statistics looking fantastic for only another eight months, the time for an inspection was now or not at all.
He replaced the handset and breathed in, almost smelling promotion and the overpopulated corridors of a thriving urban school.
“Mrs M.!” he called, the lift of his voice unnecessary as she was already hovering with a tumbler pushed against the wall on the other side. “Rally the troops. Our time has finally come.”
Like Rumpelstiltskin, The Fridge did a little jig and scrunched her fists up with glee.
“Shall I call your wife to let her know you will be late tonight?” she asked, and Derek nodded his captain’s assent.
Monday nights were WI nights, she wouldn’t mind a bit... Although, he then pondered, feeling the glow of success beginning to warm his belly, it might be nice to give her the news himself.
“Actually, Mrs M.,” he mused, pausing only briefly before making up his mind, “ask Miranda to call me back. I’d like to tell her the news myself after I’ve spoken to the staff.”
If nothing else, he thought with satisfaction, it would give her a decent reason to hum.
Having briefed the teachers, fielded their horror-struck questions, and once again congratulated himself on being so well prepared, Derek decided to give his head some air.
All was going to plan so far.
John Bentwick, the school’s Chair of Governors, had been bumbling but supportive. “Don’t worry,” he’d said. “Yer yields ‘ave been good; yer tracking yer productivity; and yer don’t get involved in the teaching.” Derek had wondered what he’d meant by the last comment, but consoled himself by acknowledging that the man had never been one for words. Teachers teach, he thought, leaders lead, and governors around here tend to farm.
And now, with a petrified hubbub buzzing within the school, a bit of calm was what he needed to prepare his thoughts for the next leg of his career.
He stepped back into the chilly morning, his breath puffing great billows of warm air out into the ether, and cast a disparaging eye across his current realm. This may be my domain for now, he contemplated, but it won’t be my domain for much longer.
“Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all,” he muttered to himself, smiling; and for once the words were coated with a smug sheen.
The coo of a renegade pigeon sounded out from across the other side of the playground, but Derek just continued to revel in his projected success and barely registered the noise. It was always possible that if it had registered he’d have known that it was the same bird that had lurked with intent throughout the summer term, dive-bombing his car, taking no prisoners. But Derek had other far more exciting things to consider than the loitering of a malevolent little sod. So as he continued to gloat in the moment of his crowning glory, he never knew that Percy the Pigeon had spotted a chance for his own imperial boost.
Ornithologists would perhaps have argued that the avian brain didn’t reach such levels of motivation, but Percy still needed to poop like any other. Sticking two feathers up to zoological theories, he knew that the sense of lift he’d get once he’d released his load would have him soaring above his patch as majestically as an eagle. And if that wasn’t reason enough to swoop down and let rip then he didn’t know what was.
Derek, unaware of the impending bombardment, also remained ignorant of the failure of the mission as the pigeon mistimed his descent. A casual observer may have thought they heard a squawk of regret, but Percy would have argued that he had better things to do than dive bomb a sitting duck. And besides... it wasn’t the only thing to which Derek was oblivious. For such was the intensity of his day dreaming, that it was only as the school gate clinked shut that he finally became aware of the blazingly attractive, heavily made up blonde now strutting his way.
His eyes widened with surprise and took in the loincloth length skirt and flimsy, flouncy, fly away material acting suspiciously like a blouse. Even to his naive mind it was clear that the woman was cold, yet she seemed oddly indifferent to the tuning knobs pointing invitingly out. Inexperienced in these sophisticated ways, Derek did the only thing a man could do; he stared.
“And who is this handsome devil, Ashley?” she cooed to her child, overly emphasising her aitches as she tottered across the tarmac. To his chagrin, Derek felt his face turn a shade of cherry pink just as the pair of long tanned legs came to a halt in front of him.
“I’m Derek,” Derek managed, but only just, for as he said it, he found he had to look up and quickly realised just how tall this corker was. “Derek T-t-titzfumbleton,” he mumbled as a result, completely unaware of the mistake he’d managed to avoid throughout his entire career.
The lipstick-laden lips floating in front of his eyes spread into a wide smile.
“At last we meet, Mr Titzfumbleton. I’m Mabe Milner, but please, just call me Mabel.”
“Mum...” Ashley whispered, frowning with embarrassment, “this is Mr FitzTumbleton, not Titzfumbleton...”
Dazzled by the wanton sexuality still pointing directly at him, Derek barely registered the correction.
The grin in front of him broadened.
“Mum! He’s our head teacher...”
Mabel Milner now lifted an eyebrow. “Ooooh,” the word escaped like a groan of ecstasy. “I like a good ‘ead, meself. Makes all the difference, don’t you think?...”
It took a second for the complimentary nature of the words to sink in, but Derek had already found his blush deepening to a crimson glow. Desperate to regain his composure, he dragged his eyes away from the bewitching smile and looked instead at the clean black trousers, sensible shoes and androgynously laid out features of the youngster he’d been ignoring. An unexpected panic ballooned.
Oh my God! he thought. Was this child a boy or a girl? So unisex was the clothing these days he realised he had no idea. Cursing his cowardice for not reading the pupil notes earlier, Derek armed himself with what he hoped would elicit a gender specific response.
“So, Ashley,” he muttered, praying, “are you involved in the training tonight?”
Football training always took place on a Monday, and for a second Derek was sure that, despite the politically incorrect assumption, the youngster’s reply would tell him all he needed to know. Unfortunately, the dismissive shrug that came back didn’t even give him a clue.
“Not into footie, then,” he struggled on, but Mrs Milner’s hand had already begun to reach across to grasp the child’s fingers and guide them both towards the front door. Two innocent eyes stared back, and to his despair Derek realised that he had little choice but to give up. “Well, do take yourselves inside. Mrs McFreece will register you in,” he muttered, regretfully aware that it would mark the end of this extraordinary exchange.
As the words slipped out, a vision of Miranda appeared in his mind, her generous proportions and regal hairstyle the antithesis of what was before him now. There was no doubt, he conceded, that both women had their strengths. However the devoted nature of his wife was not to be overlooked. She needed him. And although at times it felt an onerous duty for one who had so many other responsibilities, he liked being needed... Yes, he rallied internally, whilst allowing one eye to linger for just a couple of seconds longer on the toned brown thighs walking off, he should be grateful for the angel fluttering in his conscience, for it was an appropriate reminder to have. And, putting aside his wife’s inexplicable humming earlier, he was struck by a tiny tinge of guilt.
“On second thoughts,” he mumbled, professionalising his mindset once more and suddenly becoming aware of the other, weightier implications of what he’d just said; The Fridge was going to need to be kept under control for the next few days. “Let me see you in...”
But as this magnanimous offer reached its audience, a series of not entirely unpredictable but still unfortunate events then occurred.
Mrs McFreece opened the front door. A gust of wind eddied across the playground. A piece of loose material fluttered upwards. And Derek’s last thought, before The Fridge condemned a rare pleasure to the annals of never-to-be-mentioned-joys, was: Good Lord! Buttocks before break...
Mabel Milner threw her handbag onto the kitchen table in disgust and throated a growl that would have made a Doberman proud.
Who did that poxy little man think he was? She hadn’t run away from a lousy East End home, pregnant, destitute and clinging onto the coattails of a wayward older sister, just to be treated like that now. This pathetic little village, with its dung ridden streets and its pint-sized school, was neither London nor Cockerby Town. No! It was blinkin’ Lower Bushey – a rural backwater that was still clearing up after celebrations for women gaining the vote – and nothing within it, including its only headmaster, warranted delusions of grandeur!
Mabel recalled the look of disgust chiselled into McFreece’s face and growled again. That fat hog he called his secretary had blatantly given her the once over. “I’ve seen nudists with more clothes on...” the sow had muttered. And all he’d done was shift from one stumpy leg to the other, opening and closing his mouth like a clam. Mabel could remember, even now, how she had watched him in astonishment, waiting for some sort of rebuke to issue from his lips whilst she’d flattened down her skirt, until she’d finally realised that none would be forthcoming and had eventually marched out of the school, chin, chest and nipples held high.
So what if it’s a windy day! she now thought angrily, and let her breasts wobble indignantly as she plumped her hands onto her hips. And so bloody what if she wasn’t wearing any knickers too! If Fitztumbleton couldn’t appreciate a touch of natural beauty when it was presented to him then he was more of a prawn than she’d originally thought.
She felt her left boob slip out of its flimsy holder and absentmindedly tucked it back in.
Well ok, she conceded, feeling the tickle of lace as it brushed against her skin, perhaps her work attire wasn’t the most appropriate clothing for school. A stripper’s garb definitely looked better through drunken eyes under conditions of subdued lighting...
End of Extract.
Sorry, couldn't fit all of Chapter 2 within the word count, so kept it just to a taster.