He bought the house because it was in a quiet road leading out to the countryside. He'd looked out over the back garden and could see a park beyond. Nice. Didn't think any more about it. Turns out it wasn't a park, it was a school. A girls' school.
St Alfreda's High School – a private, boarding school for pampered rich kids – Jim (real name James Graham Montgomery-Blair) likes to think he's a bit of a lefty but he's definitely in the claret drinking socialist classes. The kind that want to earn a lot and protest at weekends or their days off. Jim is a 'writer', spends a lot of time working from home on his commissions (birthday card rhymes, advertising slogans, company 'value statements' and of course his forthcoming magnum opus – publisher still to be arranged – The White Dove). The house had what Jim needed most, an upstairs room at the back overlooking the park/grounds where he could work in peace and quiet.
On the second weekend after he moved in, Jim went for a walk in the neighbourhood. There are excellent public footpaths, the kind that aren't covered in dogshit because they are so close to the housing estate and all the people that can't be bothered to bag it and chuck it take the dogs there so they can ignore the crap. Here there were few people (his neighbours on the left were an old couple who he'd already started to help by mowing their lawn; on the right was a single mother with an 11 year-old ... attending the school behind as a day pupil. Not expected that, it seemed they accepted less well off, bright children); walking across the edge of the grounds where a footpath allowed access down to the river (shielded from the rest of the grounds by a fence and a hedge) there was a mole on the path, scurrying across in its blind way. Three girls came up from the opposite direction and called "Miss! there's a black mouse". Jim bent down and gently picked up the mole (and got a bite! Served him right he thought). "It's not a mouse, it's a mole".
'Miss' turned out to be a 40-something, lean, brown-haired, slightly severe woman who clearly already disapproved of him because he had spoken to her charges. "Yes, it's a mole, Talpa europus. One doesn't often see them above ground"
"Talpa europaea isn't it?" said Jim "Touch his fir very gently" he said to one girl who was looking more closely than the others. She ran her finger across his soft furry back and marveled at the smoothness, like velvet.
Another teacher arrived with 3 more girls and expressed concern for the creature, not for the blood seeping from his finger, just for the mole. Gently Jim put the mole down in the long grass by the pathway, they watched as it scurried away and quickly disappeared, the walkers went their separate ways.
Two days later, when Jim was shopping he once again came across Miss – Miss Havelock to be more accurate. Outside the Lodl Supermarket she was trying to start the school van, but it was having none of it. If there was one thing Jim knew nothing about it was engines; but he knew he had to help so he offered a tow. His Volvo easily pulled the 12 seater van out of the town, along to the entrance and down the gravel drive to the school. Miss Havelock was very grateful and invited him to tea on the Sunday – it was a home weekend so most of the girls would be gone she explained (pity, he thought, but was sure she could read his mind). "You were right by the way"
"Talpa europaea ... the mole"
"Ahh, yes, I did biology at university, good to know the 3 years weren't entirely wasted. I write short copy now, not much call for biological knowledge"
Jim didn't know it, but he had just opened a door to a very new world.
He arrived in his best, dress-down clothes. Good moleskin trousers (how appropriate) and thick green cotton shirt. He'd thought of jumping the fence and walking over but thought better of it and drove the mile round on the road.
Miss Havelock (she was always Miss Havelock, never Jennifer, Jane, Julie or whatever else the J stood for - Deputy Head : Miss J Havelock MA MSB – ahhh, she'd done biology too!) greeted him and took him to the staffroom. Only three other teachers were there, seemed they had also got the weekend off. Some, he learned, lived 'out' –they lived in the town or round about in the countryside. Seven teaching staff lived in (eight if you included the head, but she was really an administrator rather than a teacher and she and Michael her husband never mixed much), two staff for each house (Atwell, Sitwell and Petersen – Jim never found out who Petersen was) plus the Deputy Head.
As Miss Havelock bustled off to get him some tea (yumm! Tea! When he could have been in his house with a beer watching the 7 Nations Rugby – Canada against Italy was going to be a cracker!) he looked round. The three teachers were each in their own way sizing him up, so it was fair to do the same. He used his Standard European Xrating (one of his more private inventions) :
Teacher 1 : A7.3
Teacher 2 : C5.8
Teacher 3 : B2.4
A – C = level of likely availability (A – available, B – unlikely, C – offlimits)
1 – 7 = level of attractiveness (7 – hubbahubba! 1 – not even in a dark storm at night!)
1 – 9 = Age range (1 = below age of consent, 2 = probably too young, 3 – 5 within acceptable bounds, 6 – 7 possible if other factors are acceptable, 8 no thank you, 9 could be my grandmother!)
From this you will gather that Teacher 2 was definitely not in with a chance – a 60 year old nun, though he had to admit she was still a looker. Teacher 3 was married, not very attractive but young. Teacher 1 pressed all the right buttons. She was young, very pretty, didn't wear a ring and had a lovely smile.
I should explain that this was a game he played with himself. Rarely, if ever had he tried to follow through with his ratings game. And anyway the females probably had their own rating system.
"Let me introduce you to the other teachers"
"This is Sister Immaculata, she is one of the teaching sisters who work with us. Perhaps I didn't mention that this is a Catholic school?"
"Welcome Mr... ?"
"Irish? Would you be a Catholic by any chance?"
"Born in England. My father was a Catholic from County Meath. He came across to build the motorways..."
"Like so many did"
" ... yes. He met my mother in Preston – her family were Strict Baptist" A look of horror swept across the Sister's brow "But neither of them showed much interest in religion so I grew up with ethics but no belief"
"Ahh, what a shame"
"And this is Miss Drudge"
Such an unfortunate name for a beautiful young woman. Miss Drudge had a cup in one hand and a plate in the other and the normal English embarrassment ensued as they tried to shake hands, she put the plate down, laughed and shook his hand. Jim realised, this had been the other teacher on the nature walk.
"And here is Madame Jasmine. Like your father, she came over and got hooked by meeting the local doctor. They married last year"
"Very pleased to meet you"
"And I, you Monsieur"
"As you might expect, Madame Jasmine teaches French"
"I see and you Sister, what do you teach?"
"I teach religious education, personal hygiene [Jim got the distinct impression this was euphemism for sex education], and art-history"
There followed a discussion on whether the prevalence of female nudes in art was acceptable. Sister Immaculata argued strongly and cogently for the case, while Miss Havelock and Miss Jasmine tended the other way.
"Miss Drudge –"
"Please call me Pamela, I hate my surname"
"- thank you, Pamela, I shall. What is your view"
"I think the female form is intrinsically more attractive than the male. It seems to me that even Michelangelo's David cannot really fully compete with a perfect female form. But, but" she insisted as Jim sought to answer "I do wonder if there is an air of salaciousness about quite so many artists painting and sculpting that form. I suspect that is partly the reason for the over exposure we experience on the television now. We seek to defend our charges from that here"
A lull in the discussion allowed him to ask what she taught. "English. I understand you are a writer? Perhaps you could come and talk to a little after-class club I run?"
"I would love to, but before you get your hopes up too much I'm afraid I write very short pieces; mission statements for companies, birthday card doggerel. Occasionally I do articles but they certainly don't pay the bills"
"No, no, that would be perfect. I'm interested in demonstrating the range of jobs available to people ... from authors, playwrights and poets to ... ummm"
"I didn't mean that. We can't all be Kate Mosse or JK Rowling. In every career there are those who become household names and those, the majority, who don't. Remember Barry Evans? No? He was in two very popular TV Sitcoms, household name, then the work dried up and eventually when he died he was a mini-cab driver. Sometimes the high flyers melt their wings"
Jim smiled, though she taught in a rather up-tight girls' school, someone who could reference Harry Potter and Labyrinth, 1960s sitcoms and Greek legends all in one go must be interesting. She had to be worth knowing "I'd love to help if I can"
.... There is more of this story ...