by Mike Sedgwick
a stiff whiskyThe airport public address system intoned the same message again; this time, I listened. ‘Mr Chester Medderman, passenger from Barcelona, please contact airport information.’
Could that be the Chester Medderman I knew at school? Mealy Mouthed Medderman, Cheating Chester or Chester Brown-nose the arch sycophant, the Uriah Heep of the Upper Fifth. The Golden Boy the Housemaster selected as Captain of just about everything, the youngest Prefect and eventually deputy Head of School, winner of one of those archaic organ scholarships to Oxford. A boy we should aspire to emulate, we were told, destined for great things. I heard he eventually had a job with Shanks, making toilets.
Chester and I were the best of friends a Prep School. We covered for one another in times of trouble, made a formidable attack on the football pitch and together won the prizes on sports day. We shared books, toys, sports equipment and even beds in a pre-pubertal declaration of everlasting friendship. We even colluded to go to the same public school.
After the long summer vacation, I sought him out on our first day at St Bede’s. He was in the Common Room talking with a group of boys.
‘Hi there, Chester. Good to see you again.’ I proffered my hand. Then I noticed his down-the-nose look.
‘Ah, Henshaw-a, now I’m at public school-a I’m determined to mix with the better class of person-a one finds here-a. Isn’t that right, chaps-a? No point being with the lower classes-a.’
Each of his phrases ended with the mouth open and an ‘a’ sound. A new affectation, like the chin-up, look down-the-nose posture.
We went our separate ways at school. He joined all the ‘right’ societies; The Scripture Union, The Flecker Poetry Society named after a former pupil and the Tovey Society after the musicologist. I went in the opposite direction and joined the chemistry society where my experiments with explosives got me into trouble.
I recognised him immediately at the information desk. ‘Chester Medderman, I presume, late of Wellington House, St Bede’s.’
‘Yes-a, and you are-a?’ Still with the ‘a’ sound but now it sounded more like a suppressed belch than his former clipped affectation.
I had stepped into a problem. His face, close up, was older, his sunken cheeks were sallow and with small spider-like veins. His bloodshot eyes held a yellowish tinge. His shave was careless, leaving areas of stubble at the angle of the jaw.
‘Richard Henshaw, from our prep school and St Bede’s. You kindly arranged for me to have a tanning for insubordination.’
That was unkind of me, and seeing the look of confusion on his face, I regretted it. He gazed for a long moment and then smiled.
‘Yes-a, Richard, how are you? Good to-a see you again-a.’
‘Have you time to join me for a coffee? There’s a table over there.’
‘Actually, Old Boy-a, I’d rather go to the bar. Need a stiffener, don’t cha know-a? What’ll you have?’
‘Did you take that job with Shanks after Oxford? We had visions of you making pissoirs for the rest of your life.’ I’m unkind again.
‘Actually, yes-a, but even though I was fast-tracked for management, it wasn’t for me-a. I tried several jobs after that, but none were suitable-a. Then I got the call from the government. I’ll get us another.’
I watched him at the bar, two double whiskies and he had vodka put into my tomato juice. He downed one of the whiskies and left the empty glass on the bar.
‘I added to your tomato juice to ginger you up a bit. Yes, a job with the government.’ He tapped the side of his reddening nose. ‘Hush, hush, MI6, don’t cha know-a, can’t say more. Just back from Moscow-a.’
‘Interesting. The PA system said you were inbound from Barcelona.’
He looked surprised, threatened almost. ‘Ah, yes, throws ‘em off the scent, don’t cha know-a. The Ruskies are a great threat-a, busy making nerve gas as fast as they can-a.’
He saw the disbelief in my eyes. He sat back in his seat and stretched his legs, showing his swollen ankles.
‘S’true, Old Boy, I’m reporting to the PM in the morning-a.’
I wondered how to respond to this when a young blonde woman appeared behind him.
‘There you are, Daddy, I thought I would find you in the bar. He’s not bothering you, is he?’
‘Yasmin, my dear girl. I gave the Commies the slip-a. I’ll pop to the facilities, then you can take me to HQ.’
‘Yasmin, nice name. I’m Richard Henshaw, I knew your father at school. Sorry to meet him again in such a state.’
‘A whiter light, a deeper gold, a glory too far shed, Yasmin; after a ghazel by JE Flecker. It’s about the only thing he remembers about school now. I suppose he told you about his secret world in MI6. Actually, HQ is Alcoholics Anonymous at the Priory Clinic.’
About the authorI fly gliders over the flatlands of Southern England and mountain peaks in Scotland, the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Part of my life is in Sri Lanka, where I help with medical research into snake venoms. Keeping our tuk-tuk driver on the road is another occupation.
There is a cabinet full of turgid medical and scientific papers, but that is what the genre demands.
I submit pieces to competitions and once won a prize. I contribute to a local blog www.chandlersfordtoday.co.uk on various subjects, Prosody and Pandemics are recent topics. There are unfinished books, one about a medical student and another about Sri Lanka.