Vine and Gall

By Peter Mallett

(with apologies to Evelyn Waugh)

St Erm’s

Unlike rival institutions built in the prevalent Spanish Mission style, St Ermenberga’s College for Gentlewomen stands impregnable in mock-Gothic splendour, a prototype for Hogwart’s Castle, atop a hill overlooking the city of Nishioka in central Japan.

Although it was a day late in October, Saul Merryweather stood outside the gates of St Erm’s (as it’s popularly known) gently perspiring from the climb. Dressed in a suit and tie for the first day of his first ever job, Saul wiped his handkerchief around his collar, puzzling over the motto inscribed above the gateway: Vita brevis est, sacculum manus eme.

“Life is short,” he translated. But what did the rest mean? Something about a hand?

His deliberations were cut short by a uniformed guard addressing him in Japanese: “Atarashi sensei desuka?”

“Uh, watashi wa Saul Merryweather desu,” he said in his best Japanese – in truth, in the only three Japanese words he knew. “I am the new, uh…” – the word sat uncomfortably on his lips – “professor.”

Ah, so desuka,” said the guard. Saul thought he knew what this meant. Fortunately, his linguistic skills were not taxed further due to the appearance of another foreigner, a middle-aged man of melancholy mien with unnaturally black hair. From the dog-collar he wore, Saul guessed this was the Chaplain.

“Hello. You the new chap?” the clergyman asked.

“That’s right,” said Saul. “Saul Merryweather. Pleased to meet you.”

“Saul, eh? Quite Biblical.”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“Not yet seen the light?”


“Saul, not Paul. Not yet had the Road to Damascus experience?”

“No, probably not,” replied Saul.

“You’ll have it here. You’ll hate it, ghastly place. You’ll soon see the light and give up any ideas of a career in teaching. They all do.”

Oh dear, thought Saul, this is not a very promising start.

“You’re the chappie from Oxford, aren’t you?” the Chaplain asked.

“Well, sort of.” Saul wasn’t sure how much of his past had been revealed to his new colleagues.

“Dr Ditheroe is frightfully excited about bagging you.”

“Really? I wasn’t at Oxford very long.”

“Never mind. He’s not concerned. Anyway,” the clergyman continued, “welcome to St Ermenberga’s. Burger Queens, I call it. My name’s Paternoster, by the way. Zebediah Paternoster.”

“Good Lord!” said Saul.

“Yes, bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? You can call me Zeb. Or Rev. I answer to both. Damned fools of parents to burden me with such a name. Didn’t have much choice but to enter the Church with a name like that though, between you and me, I’m not really cut out for the job.”

“No?” said Saul.

“No,” said the Chaplain. He appeared ready to make a full confession but at this moment they were interrupted by a harassed-looking Japanese woman. Dr Ditheroe wanted to see Saul to discuss his classes and duties.

“Better hop along then,” said Paternoster. “Have you met our esteemed principal yet?”

“Briefly; at the interview,” Saul replied.

“Dotty, I call him. Watch out for his wife. Met her yet?”

“No, I haven’t had that pleasure,” said Saul.

“Pleasure! You’re in for a real treat. Nazi-ko, the Führer, I call her but she doesn’t know it. Anyway, I’d better not keep you.”


The Principal and his Wife

The harassed-looking woman ushered Saul into a book-lined study of generous proportions, decorated like an old-fashioned gentleman’s club. Seated at a large antique desk was Dr Ditheroe. Pointing over his shoulder to what looked like an account ledger and jabbing a bony finger angrily at the figures, stood an extraordinarily severe and exceedingly tiny woman with short-cropped purple hair. Saul assumed she was the Führer.

“Saul, my dear fellow,” said Dr Ditheroe, jumping up from his chair. “Delighted! Delighted to have you here!” He grabbed Saul by both hands. “I was just saying to–”

“Good morning, Mr Murraywuther,” the little woman interrupted. “My name is Natsuko Furuya. Pleased to meet you.”

Saul held out his hand but the woman ignored it and bowed. “I am the wife of the principal. I chose to retain my maiden name. It has more dignity than his.” She looked disdainfully in the direction of her deflated spouse. “Note that my name is ‘Furuya.’ Do not refer to me as the Führer.”

Saul assured her he would not dream of it.

“The Chaplain does. He thinks I don’t know.”

“Never mind that now, my dear. Though between you and me,” Dotty said, addressing Saul, “there’s something not quite right about Paternoster. Lacks solidity. He has dyed hair, you know.”

Saul said he hadn’t noticed.

“Oh, yes. He’s not quite pukka.”

“And he called me Nazi-ko,” the Führer complained. “I heard him. You should speak to him.”

“Yes, my dear. I’ll think about it. Now then, let’s all have a nice cup of tea and discuss young Saul’s duties.”

“I suppose you’d better sit down,” the Führer said, pointing to a battered leather sofa. “Maeda san, bring a pot of Darjeeling,” she ordered the harassed woman.

“And some shortbread,” added Dotty.

“Definitely not,” said the Führer. “That’s going too far.”

Dotty looked disappointed. “No shortbread then.” He took an armchair opposite Saul; the Führer sat upright on a hard-backed seat at right angles to them. “Now, I’ve forgotten exactly what your major was …”

“Philosophy,” said Saul.

“Well, never mind. Not much call for that here. You’ll have to take over the classes left by the unfortunate departure of your predecessor.”

“Why exactly did he leave?” Saul asked.

“Bit of a problem with one of the students, really. He promised to marry her too so I think it was all a fuss over nothing. I’m sure the three of them will be very happy. Anyway, he had to go. The papers made a big to-do about it.”

Saul sympathized.

“No! No! Wonderful publicity – front-page news! You can’t buy exposure like that. The tragedy was, some dratted politician no-one had ever heard of spoiled it all.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, just another corruption scandal. Bribes. Happens every day. It’s not news. But it bumped us clean off the page after only two days. Damned nuisance.”

Maeda san reappeared with a tray holding a teapot, three china cups, a jug of milk and a bowl filled with paper sticks of sugar. “We won’t be needing those,” the Führer said, returning the sugar to the secretary. “I’ll be mother, shall I?”

Saul could imagine no one less suited for motherhood. He wondered if she and Dotty had any children.

“Anyway,” Dotty continued. “It’s all worked out very well because now we have you. Just come down from Oxford.”

“Sent down,” said the Führer.

“It’s all pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?” said Dotty. “No need to concern ourselves with minor details like that.” He took a sip of his tea. “It’s a real coup to have young Saul here. One in the eye for St Pud’s.”

Saul was beginning to wonder about these obscure saints.

“I’ve been thinking that we should institute High Table here, now that we have an Oxford graduate,” Dotty told them.

The Führer looked up in alarm.

“Solidity and tradition; that’s what we need. Port and passing the snuff, that sort of thing.”

The Führer looked even more alarmed but Dotty continued, oblivious. “And some silver. That would look good, don’t you think, my dear?”

From the expression on the Führer’s face, it was clear she did not. “Silver costs money,” she said. “As do port and snuff. That’s going too far.”

“Pity,” said Dotty. He sat back sadly in his chair and swigged his tea.

“About my classes,” said Saul.

“Yes, Mr Worrymother,” said the Führer. “You will teach English conversation, English pronunciation – and by that, I mean British pronunciation. We don’t want any Americanisms polluting our students’ diction. English composition – British spelling, of course – and English history. Is that clear?”

“Well, I expect I can manage the language lessons, though I don’t have much experience,” – this was an understatement – “but I’m not sure about history. Philosophy’s my subject.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t worry too much,” Dotty intervened. “You are English, aren’t you?”

Saul reassured them he was.

“In that case, you’ll know more about English history than the students so you’ll have no problems. Make sure to tell them about our patron saint.”

“Saint Ermenberga? But I’ve never heard of her,” said Saul.

“No, it’s a sad fact but many of your generation are not au fait with the illustrious history of the founder of the convent of Minster, wife of King Merewald of Mercia and mother of Saints Mildred, Milburga, Ermengytha and Mildgytha.”

Saul wasn’t sure whether Dotty was pulling his leg.

“Our institution was founded by three sisters of the Order of Saint Ermenberga in 1894 as an asylum for the education of young women in household works. Well-intentioned, but a bit limited in my opinion. We have a more enlightened view these days.”

Saul felt relieved.

“We try to give our students higher aspirations: careers as flight attendants, models, actresses. Make good marriages. Etcetera. So I’ve introduced new courses to teach them appropriate skills.”

“So you’re interested in educational innovation?” asked Saul.

“Exactly. Our new course on nail art is a huge success and generating great interest. I thought of that myself.”

This was not exactly what Saul had meant by ‘educational innovation’ but he tried to show suitable enthusiasm.

“And our university motto; I’ve updated it. Perhaps you noticed it on your way in?”

“I did,” said Saul, “though I didn’t recognize it. Is it Biblical?”

“Well, it was originally, I suppose. Something worthy. But it was old-fashioned and didn’t match the ambitions of our present students. So I changed it.”

Sacculum manus,” said Saul. “I couldn’t translate that.”

“No, unfortunately Latin doesn’t have the exact expression. I had to make that bit up. Sacculum, a bag; manus, genitive, of the hand. Life is short, buy the handbag!”

Saul was dumbfounded. He could think of no appropriate response so took another sip of his tea. What sort of a place have I come to work at? he wondered.

“So there we are,” said Dotty. “The teaching should be a piece of cake for someone of your academic background. And I hear you’re quite a sportsman.”

“Well, I did play croquet once. And I have a certificate for the twenty-five-metres breast stroke.”

“Excellent, excellent. Just the man to coach the lacrosse team.”

“Good Lord,” said Saul. “I don’t know anything about lacrosse.”

“Oh, don’t let that worry you. The girls will teach you the rules. You’ll soon get the hang of it. I want you to instill team spirit. That sort of thing. Stop any violence.”

“Violence?” asked Saul, aghast.

“Yes, some of them can be quite vicious. Definitely no LVH.”


“No Louis Vuitton Handbags. They can inflict quite a lot of damage, you know.”

Saul didn’t. It had never occurred to him that a lacrosse team would take their designer handbags onto the field.

“And footwear. You must check that carefully.”

“What am I to check for?” Saul asked.

“Why, that none of them are wearing stilettos, of course.”

“Do some of them?”

“Yes, if you give them a chance. Very dangerous. We had a terrible incident last year when poor Misaki Matsuda, an aspiring lingerie model, fell off her Manolo Blahniks.”

“What happened to her?”

“Made a frightful mess of her fingernails. Ruined her manicure. Terrible to-do. Misaki went into shock and we had to send her to emergency.”

Saul promised that no one would wear stilettos on his watch.

A bell rang. “Goodness me,” said Dotty. “Ten forty-five! Where does the time go? So, young man, off to the classroom. Nazi… I mean, my wife, will show you the way. English first. Ninety minutes. You’ll have a wonderful time. Lovely students here, all from the best families. All with solidity.”

“Come along then, Mr Wellymeasure,” said the Führer.


English Lesson

A cloud of face powder greeted Saul as he entered the classroom. Once the fog cleared, he discerned twelve nineteen year-olds, seated in four rows at desks on which were spread an astonishing array of beauty products. The students were busily employed applying make-up. All except one in sunglasses who was texting on her mobile phone, and another who appeared to be reading ‘War and Peace.’ One of the girls had a giant pink roller in her fringe; another was curling her eyelashes with what looked like a mediaeval torture instrument. They all ignored Saul.

“Good morning,” said Saul.

The girls looked up and, seeing Saul, began to chat excitedly to each other.

“If you’re quite ready, let’s begin the lesson. Could you put away your makeup, please? And you,” he pointed to the girl in shades, “I don’t think you’ll need sunglasses for my lesson.”

“No make,” the girl replied.

“I beg your pardon,” Saul said.

“She means she’s not wearing makeup, Professor Merryweather,” said the girl reading ‘War and Peace’.

“Oh, I see,” said Saul, not seeing at all. Why would she need makeup to study English?

He looked along the rows of students before him. Except for the girl reading ‘War and Peace’, who was sensibly dressed in jeans and sneakers, all were attired in Chanel suits, Louis Vuitton handbags placed by their feet. This is a very expensive uniform, he thought. But how am I ever going to tell them apart?

“What’s your name?” he asked the first girl.

“My name is Keiko,” she replied.

“Very good. And what’s yours?” he asked the girl behind her.

“My name is Keiko,” she answered.

Oh dear, thought Saul. “What’s your name?” he asked the third girl in the row.

“My name is Keiko.”

“No, no, no!” said Saul. “You can’t all be called Keiko.”

The second girl put up her hand. “I’m not called Keiko.”

“You just said you were.”

“No, I didn’t. My name is Kyoko.”

The third girl then put up her hand. “My name’s not Keiko either.”

“Why did you say it was, then?” Saul asked. He was beginning to get irritated.

“I didn’t. My name is Kayoko.”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” said Saul. “What’s your name?” he asked the girl at the head of the second row. “I suppose you’re called Keiko too.”

“No, I’m not. My name is Kayo.”

“Is there anyone here whose name does not begin with K?”

The girl reading ‘War and Peace’ raised her hand. “My name is Kishiwada Ai,” she said.

“Kishiwadai begins with a K!” shouted Saul.

“Kishiwada is my family name,” said the girl, unconcerned by Saul’s display of temper. “My given name is Ai. It means love.”

Love, thought Saul, gazing at the student. She was the most enchanting young woman he had ever encountered. “Right,” he said, collecting himself. “This is hopeless. From now on, you’ll have new names. You,” pointing at the girl in the front of the first row, “are K1.”

He continued along the rows, “K2, K3, K4, K5, K6, K7, K8, K–” Saul paused. “Dog. Then Ai, K11 and K12. Got it?”

He pointed at each of the girls:







“Kako,” said the girl in sunglasses.

“No, you’re K7 now,” Saul told her.

“K seben,” she said.

“Good. Continue,” Saul said, indicating the girl behind her.






“That’s right. Now, my name is Mr Merryweather. Please repeat it.”

“Mr Mellywezza,” the girls chanted.

“No, Merryweather.”

“Mellywezza,” came back the distorted echo.

“Oh, never mind. Call me Saul.”

“Sawru,” the girls chorused.

“Yes, that’ll do. Does anyone have any questions?” Three arms shot up. Saul pointed to the girl in the roller.

“How old are you?” she asked.

Saul blushed. He was, in fact, only a year or two older than his students but he didn’t think it wise to let them know that. “That’s not a question we normally ask strangers. I’m older than you and younger than your father.”

This seemed to satisfy the girl in the roller. The student with the eyelash device put up her hand. “Are you married?”

The other girls giggled and Saul blushed again. Good Lord, he thought. What personal questions! The girls waited expectantly. “I’m not yet married,” he told them.

K1 put up her hand. Saul decided they had sufficient information about his personal life. “You know all about me so I want to know about you. You’re going to write an essay telling me what you want to do after you graduate. Take out some paper and a pen.”

The girl in shades put up her hand. “No paper.”

Saul tore out a page from his notebook. “Here you are.”

She put up her hand again. “No pen.”

Saul reluctantly handed over his favourite ball pen. The girl put up her hand again. “Now what’s the matter?” Saul asked.

The girl stretched her hands out in front of her. Her ten nails, each about four inches long, were adorned with tiny pieces of coloured glass and miniature pearls. It was clear she could not write even if she had a pen. Saul snatched back his.

“If you can’t write, you can draw a picture of yourself in five years’ time. And if you don’t have coloured pens, use your makeup pencils.” He looked at his watch. “You have sixty minutes to finish.”

At the end of the hour, the students had produced eleven beautifully executed portraits of themselves in a manga style worthy of Osamu Tezuka. Five were of flight attendants, four of brides in wedding dresses and veils (one, a Barbie-pink ensemble), and one of a mother surrounded by enough progeny to solve Japan’s population problem. The picture from the girl in shades looked like an ad for a porno film. Ai Kishiwada, on the other hand, had written a five-page essay on the importance of higher education for women and how she was going to study at Oxford and Yale once she had finished wasting her time and graduated from “this blot on the educational landscape.”

Saul, meanwhile, had completed two Sudoku puzzles. He was determined to immerse himself in Japanese culture during his stay in the country.


The Chaplain

“How were the little horrors?” asked the Chaplain, meeting Saul outside the classroom after the lesson. “Did you find them difficult?”

“Not at all,” said Saul.

“I find them all impossible,” Paternoster said. “Totally ineducable.”

“They weren’t so bad. We reviewed introductions, the present simple tense and the present simple negative.”

“Good heavens!” said Paternoster. “In six months I haven’t been able to get them to recite the Lord’s Prayer. I suppose it’s because of my hair.”

“Your hair?” asked Saul.

“Yes, I expect you’ve noticed it’s dyed?”

“No, of course not.”

“The girls have. They think I’m attempting to look younger than I am.”

“I’m sure they don’t.”

“Yes, they do. But, in fact, I’m not. It’s a disguise.”

“A disguise? What for?”

“I’m on the run, you see.”

“Good Lord!” said Saul. “What have you done?”

“Oh, I haven’t committed a crime or anything,” said Paternoster. “I’m trying to escape the wife.”

“Wife! I thought Catholic priests weren’t allowed to marry.”

“That’s right,” said Paternoster. “But the truth is, I’m not strictly a Catholic.”

“You’re not? What are you then?”

“I’m a Methodist.”

“But that’s nothing like a Catholic,” said Saul. “Are you really a priest?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve been ordained and all that stuff. Just not in the Catholic Church. Dotty didn’t seem concerned – he was desperate to get a chaplain. There aren’t many forthcoming from the Order of St Ermenberga.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Saul. “But standards seem a bit lax here, don’t they?” He felt one confession deserved another. “I mean, I’m not exactly an Oxford graduate.”


“I was expelled. Excessive drinking,” said Saul, blushing at the memory.

“Fond of the bottle, are you?” asked Zeb. “Just the ticket: a stomach for alcohol is an excellent quality for this job. I keep a bottle of whisky with the communion wine. Strictly for emergencies, of course. But you’re welcome to a tipple at ten thirty each morning and five each afternoon. And I have a stash of valium should you get desperate.”

Saul thanked him for the offer but said he was now on the wagon.

“Pity. Anyway, it’s time for lunch. The grub’s disgusting here. Your safest bet is an Ermenberga burger.”


The Speech Contest

In Saul’s second week at St Erm’s, Dotty called a staff meeting. “As you all know, the feast of our patronal saint is fast approaching. November 19th, the week after next, in fact.”

The chaplain groaned.

“Instead of our usual service–”

Zeb let out a whoop of joy.

“We will have a speech contest.” Dotty looked around expectantly but his announcement did not elicit the anticipated enthusiasm from his faculty. “There will be five contestants. Young Saul will coach them and be one of the judges.”

Good God, thought Saul.

“The chaplain will be the timekeeper and – this is the exciting part.” The faculty looked up hopefully. “The guest judge will be Professor Doric-Lexis!”

This also failed to raise any excitement.

“I expect you’ve heard of him,” said Dotty, addressing Saul.

Saul confessed that he had not.

“The world famous linguist?”

“No, sorry,” said Saul. “Though the name does have a vaguely familiar ring to it. Yes! The Master of my college at Oxford was a Professor Doric-Lexis.”

“That’s Reggie,” said Dotty. “This is his brother, Archie, professor at St Pud’s. Of course, he’s wasted there but they bribed him. Very pretentious for that vulgar institution to hire someone of world renown. But they’re very well endowed.” He leaned confidentially towards Saul. “Some of the parents have yakuza connections.”

“Really!” said Saul.

“Yes. And St Pudentiana’s origin is disputed, you know. The cult was suppressed in 1969 and veneration confined to her basilica in Rome. Not like St Ermenberga. No solidity.” He looked around the room with satisfaction. “Well, where were we? Ah yes, the speech contest. All five contestants will receive a prize.”

The Führer looked up in alarm. “Prizes?”

“Yes, my dear. What’s the budget?”

“One thousand yen. Maeda san can buy a big roll of Christmas paper and ribbons at the hundred yen shop. The size of the prize will correspond to the position of the winner.”

“Yes, but what will the prizes be?”

“Back issues of your subscription to Teaching International and the excess copies of your papers on pedantics–”

Semantics, my dear.”

“I’ve been wondering what to do with those.”

“Excellent! Excellent! And, as a special prize to the winner, I’ll throw in a signed copy of Archie’s book on the anaphoric clitic in the Yagua language of Peru. Fascinating!”

Saul could not imagine the students he had met at St Erm’s sharing Dotty’s fascination.

“And a cup!” Dotty continued. “We must have a cup!”

The Führer looked even more alarmed. “That’s going too far.”

“No, my dear. We must have a cup.”

“In that case, we’ll recycle the cup we won from St Pud’s in the nail-painting contest last year. Maeda san can remove the inscription with some sandpaper. Or cover it with aluminium foil.”

“Excellent idea,” said Dotty. “That’s all settled then. Does anyone have any questions?”

Saul did. “How can I prepare the students for a speech contest in only ten days? Some of them can barely string a sentence together. They don’t have time to write speeches.”

“Don’t worry about small details. It’s more of a recitation contest. No need for originality. Miss Evans on the Titanic is a very moving story. Always goes down a treat.”

“But how am I to select the contestants?”

“I’ll give you a list. Haruna Yoshimoto can go first. Great style.”

“Rhetorical style?”

“No, no. Fashion, of course. She’ll look wonderful in Versace on the stage.”

“What about Ai Kishiwada?” suggested Saul. “She seems remarkably intelligent.”

“Oh, I suppose we’ll have to have that dreary girl,” Dotty conceded. “Though goodness knows what she’ll wear. No fashion sense at all. Doesn’t possess a piece of Prada. Wouldn’t recognize a pair of Louboutins if they hit her in the face.”


The Speech Contest – Continued

On the day of the contest, Saul took his seat in the grand, vaulted hall of the university, built in an era of optimism when students were more numerous than the present age. Professor Doric-Lexis squeezed his considerable bulk into the place next to him. “You’re that fellow sent down from my brother’s college, aren’t you?” he asked Saul.

Saul reluctantly admitted he was.

“Quite a bender you went on, from what I’ve heard.”

Saul thought this unfair – his arrest for dancing naked on the rooftop was the result of his wine being laced – but this didn’t seem an appropriate moment to defend himself.

“Don’t let that bother you,” said Doric-Lexis. “Given you a reputation. That never hurt anyone. I had one myself once.”

Saul would have liked to discover if this reputation were for academic distinction or for dancing naked on rooftops but his attention was diverted by the spectacle of Maeda san staggering onto the stage, weighed down by a parcel of enormous proportions, gaily decorated with a profusion of ribbon. Four Japanese professors of low importance followed, all struggling with their burdens, though diminishing in size along the length of the procession. The students screamed with excitement.

Little do they know, thought Saul.

The Führer, unaccountably attired for an English garden party in a wide-brimmed hat adorned with dejected looking flowers, took the stage. “Is everyone ready?” she asked.

“No!” said Zeb. “There’s no stopwatch. How am I supposed to time the speeches?”

The Führer was unconcerned. “Stop making a fuss. Listen to me, everyone,” she said into the microphone. “There is a time limit of three minutes. Everyone will count to one hundred and eighty. Right, can we start?”

Haruna Yoshimoto strutted onto the stage on vertiginous heels and posed, one hand on her waist as if on a red carpet, while the cameras flashed.

“I have a dream,” she began.

“Four, five, six,” the audience chanted.

“I have a dream.”

“Nine, ten, eleven–”

“No, no, no!” shouted the Führer, seizing the microphone. “Count silently. Start again.”

Haruna resumed her speech, a confused polemic on racial inequality, cruelty to animals and the importance of fashion for world peace, with liberal borrowings from Martin Luther King. “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia,” she exclaimed, reaching the climax.

“One hundred and eighty,” shouted one of the audience.

“Let freedom ring from Mount Everest,” Haruna continued.

“One hundred and eighty,” shouted another.

“Let freedom ring from Mount Fuji.”

“One hundred and eighty,” shouted several more.

“Stop, stop!” shouted Zeb.

Haruna moved away from the mike to pose for more photos.

Dotty, sitting on the side of the stage on a sort of throne, robed in academic gown, a mortarboard balanced precariously on his head, stood up. “Does anyone have a watch?”

One of the contestants raised her hand. “My smartphone has a stopwatch.”

“Extraordinary!” said Dotty. “A telephone with a stopwatch. Extraordinary!”

The second speech did not require a stopwatch: it lasted only one minute and thirty seconds by Saul’s reckoning. The third was a moving rendition of Miss Evans on the Titanic, though the speaker’s insistence that the Titanic was hit by a giant iceburger gave Saul visions of a frozen BigMac downing the liner.

The fourth speaker was in full flow when the smartphone stopwatch rang out at terrifying volume the theme tune from Godzilla. Pandemonium ensued. Professor Doric-Lexis awoke with a prodigious snore, swayed dangerously and crashed off his seat into the aisle, hitting his head in the fall. Blood oozed down his face. Students shrieked. Dotty jumped up and ran around aimlessly, his gown flapping like the wings of a demented owl, before colliding with the Führer. His mortarboard skidded onto the brim of her hat, crushing the sad flowers which gave up the ghost and slid in despair to the floor. Her vision blocked by the skewed hat, the Führer toppled over the edge of the stage.

Saul surveyed the carnage in horror. Were the professor and the Führer dead?

Zeb seized a fire bucket and poured its contents over the Führer. The subsequent torrent of abuse proceeding from her mouth confirmed she was not dead.

Remembering the first aid he had learned in Boy Scouts, Saul ascertained that Professor Doric-Lexis was merely unconscious. With difficulty, he manoeuvred the professor’s hefty frame into the recovery position and wiped the blood away from his face.

By the time the emergency services arrived, the Führer was issuing orders from her prone position (it appeared she had fractured her big toe) and the professor was sitting up cheerfully, unscarred by the experience.

“Remarkable young man you have here, Ditheroe,” he said. “Saved my life. I’ll have a word with my brother about this.”

“Yes, Archie. Remarkable. Now, let’s get the awards ceremony over; then we can all have a nice cup of tea.”

“Awards?” asked Saul. “But we haven’t decided the winner. And Ai Kishiwada hasn’t given her speech.”

“Never mind that,” said Dotty. “I wrote out the certificates beforehand to save time. Haruna is the winner, of course. Ai is in fifth position.”

“But that’s not fair. Her speech was entirely original and written without help.”

“Well she didn’t give it, so she can’t expect a higher position. Now, come along, it’s all decided.”



Saul’s illustrious career at St Erm’s lasted precisely four weeks. By the end of Michaelmas term, he was safely reinstalled in his Oxford college due to the intervention and undying gratitude of Professor Doric-Lexis.

In his third uneventful year, Saul bumped into an exceedingly beautiful and talented young Japanese post-grad in Magdalene gardens. Saul and Ai were married the following year. The Rev Zeb, his hair restored to its natural colour, no longer in fear of his ex-wife (she’d run off to Korea with a Moonie), performed the ceremony.