the new member of staff

She breezed in at the beginning of one Autumn Term. We had spent the summer lazing in our back gardens, trying to find some respite from the harsh sun that scorched Lincolnshire’s open plains. The county had a big sky with very little to fill it apart from the Cathedral and that didn’t throw enough shade.

In the summer months the Bishop himself could be found  hugging the walls of this edifice, slowly edging along with  the shadows as the sun moved around. Periodically he would escape to refill his chalice from the font. His vestments were a serious impediment to health during these times. Hot and airless. The mitre clung to his damp forehead and the sweat ran into his eyes stinging and making him blink.

Passing American tourists would look on at him wondering who on earth he was. It didn’t occur to them that he might be someone called the Bishop of Lincoln. He crouched there blinded and speechless, propping himself up with his crook, head tilted upwards with one hand held aloft to protect himself from the murderous sunshine.

Sometimes one of the clerics would come looking for him and when he was unable to hide the Bishop would shrink back, hard against a flying buttress. He would stand there, looking up at a stained glass window and avoiding the gaze of his subordinate, ignoring any appeal to return to the inner sanctum of the choir, despite the attraction of the coolness and the real comfort of his throne.

At night when most of the visitors had retired to their hotels rooms the Bishop would remove his heavy clothes and return, shoulders bent, to his palace where his wife would run him a cold bath.

He then liked nothing better than to sit down to a light green salad with lettuce picked fresh from the Cathedral walled garden eaten with a grilled chicken breast marinaded in his favourite dressing. The Bishop favoured a crisp white Bordeaux on these hot summer evenings especially after a hard day’s self inflicted penance. He would usually finish the bottle whilst his wife looked on, afterwards bringing him a bottle of his favourite cognac on a silver platter with a single brandy glass.

With the doors of the conservatory flung wide open to catch the remaining evening breeze the Bishop would sit back in his armchair and reflect that life was not so bad.

We saw little of this. The tall walls of the Bishop’s Palace kept hidden what we were not meant to know about and if we did pass by of an evening it was in complete ignorance of the Bishop’s twilight habits. Even had we known I doubt that it would have struck a chord with any of us.

We didn’t care. We were lost in our own dream worlds, confined by endless imagination that, whilst physically bound to Lincoln, would allow us to escape, climb mountains and swim in lakes that were far from our actual experiences. We spent the summer doing this and ended up tanned and at the peak of physical fitness. At the end of it all we had to face up to the fact that school now beckoned and we had to root in our drawers to find the clothes purchased by mothers expressly for the purpose of fitting into accepted standards of attire when furthering our education.

We walked into the form room on that first morning with absolutely no idea what lay in store for us. Miss Northeast strode in and addressed the class.

By Trefor Davies

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