'Bob-a-Job, sir?'

(Part 1 from 7)


If you’ve ever been to Humpton-on-Thames, it was probably by mistake. Because Humpton is a pretty dull little place. Maybe you got off the train at the wrong stop, goon brain?

If you did make that mistake, you’ll have wandered around Humpton Station. Trying to pass the time, until the next train to somewhere more interesting came along. The station entrance at Humpton is as good a place as any to do that. It has a KostaKrappaKoffee, where you can pay four quid for a cup of hot brown foam. And WH Smugg, station booksellers, with an abnormally large selection of magazines on crochet, angling and model railways.

There’s a map of the town, which looks like a diagram of a sex maniac’s brain. The map has so many phallic shapes, little round cartoon bosoms and cavities. (Then you realise that the town planners were just very keen on beacons and towers, double roundabouts and tunnels.) And the street signs suggest that the guys at the council are either terribly, terribly innocent or really pervy.

What with ‘Uranus Hill’. (Prompting the exchange you often hear on Humpton streets between old ladies and little boys: “Where are you going, Tommy, dear?” “Up your anus, Mrs Smith”)

Then there’s the local beauty spot and lover’s lane, ‘Allder Way’. (“Sue, darling, how are you getting on with Malcolm?” “Not bad, thanks, Mum. Hoping to go Allder Way with him tonight.”)

Now Humpton is a pretty insular place, you know. When the Titanic went down, the local paper carried the headline “Berkshire Man Lost At Sea”. But fair play to the Humpton authorities. They really are proud of their town.

So there’s a little display put up by the Humpton Chamber of Commerce. This shows you the richness and variety of Humpton life.

For example, a notice informs the casual visitor that Humpton is proud to be twinned with its sister towns of Punk (Moldova); Goolie Lick (Western Australia); and Satan (New Jersey). And here’s a plaque to commemorate the visit last year by the mayor of Punk. (That must have been nice!)

Then there’s a dingy little photo gallery, ‘celebrating’ the town. Councillor Splott opening the new multi-story car park. The Humpton Morris Dancers doing their bit to keep crime off the street, by showing the Humpton youth something wholesome to do on a Friday night. Etc etc.

One of the photos is of some sort of presentation. It is captioned: “Mr Jim Shaft of the Humpton Chamber of Commerce makes a presentation to Dr Eleanor Twatte, headmistress of Hampton Girls School”.

Mr Shaft is wearing a tuxedo. Dr Twatte is evidently wearing some sort of strapless evening gown. (The picture is head and shoulders only, so all you can see is Dr Twatte’s bare throat and white shoulders. A shame about the restricted view, because she looks like a very attractive middle-aged bird.)

If you linger on the picture, you might ask yourself one or two questions.

For example, that caption is a bit vague, isn’t it? What exactly is Mr Shaft presenting? It looks like a rather tatty cardboard folder, not the usual flash certificate or trophy.

And the facial expressions are slightly weird. Mr Shaft looks jolly enough. In fact, he must be completely sloshed, because he seems to be brimming over with excitement. Not what you’d usually expect at a Chamber of Commerce meeting.

But poor Dr Twatte looks as if she’d rather not be there. She’s showing her gnashers dutifully enough. But her cheeks are very pink. And, my, those beautiful dark eyes do have a slightly trapped look about them.

And then your train arrives, you gladly leap on, and Humpton fades away like a bad smell. But maybe at the back of your mind there remain questions? Well, read on....


Humpton Girls School is a small private school, occupying quite an obscure place in the English education pantheon. It offers a bit of finishing-school polish and A-level cramming to the thick daughters of the less-wealthy upper classes.

Not exactly rewarding work – either financially or professionally. As a result, the school is always in trouble at the bank. And the school staff tend to fall into two categories – disillusioned old grunters counting the minutes till retirement; or young/middle-aged desperately hoping that Humpton would be a stepping stone to something better.

Our story starts with an emergency 6pm staff meeting at the school. The time of day will tell you what category of school staff were attending. Yes, it was the ‘young’ and dynamic element. All four of them.

Dr Twatte was in the chair. A very handsome lady, approaching 50. Sitting where we are, we can appreciate Dr Twatte’s really splendid profile. From her fine straight nose, down to her generous bust. In the old days, you’d have seen the good Doctor’s profile (carved, topless and queenly) on the figure head of a ship. How noble she would look, breasting the waves!

Next to Dr Twatte was a quite extraordinary person. The Humpton Deputy Head, Dr Virginia McGrott, MA (Edinburgh University). Dr McGrott was also the Head of Languages and school Bursar.

Although Dr McGrott had been at the school for years, she was still a figure of mystery. In fact, McGrott was downright scary. Barely five feet tall and of dainty build, she nonetheless oozed menace.

Partly, it was her bizarre appearance. Always dressed in thick tweeds, whatever the weather. Highly starched cream-coloured blouses. Old lady’s hair do (surely a wig?). Pince nez (perfect for glaring through). She looked like a baleful midget dressing up as Miss Marple.

There was so little of McGrott actually showing (apart from the frown) that it was impossible to work out her age. Somewhere between 30 and 70 was the best you could do.

Then there was her voice – absolutely rinky-dink posh BBC Weld Service. McGrott was Scots upper-crust, and of course they sound even more lah-di-dah than the Royal Family.

With parents and students, Dr McGrott talked like the Encyclopedia Britannica. She made Stephen Fry sound like an illiterate numty with Tourette’s.

In fact, as we join the meeting, McGrott is just winding up a detailed exposition of the school finances, taking in international accounting standards and the philosophy of tax avoidance. We only catch two words, but somehow they seem the essence of McGrott. The words are: “...and ninthly...” We shudder, and turn off the volume again.

Yet in private and when emotional, McGrott’s language would make Eminem cry for Mummy. She is a real bad bastard!

Then there was the Head of Games, Miss Fenella Blowett, BSc. Oh dear!

Well, she was rather plain. What with her tombstone teeth, goofy expression, and absolutely tragic hair and clothes. Sadly, no male hearts had ever beaten any faster as Fenella Blowett galloped around the hockey field.

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