by Cath Barton
I’d been eyeing the plate of biscuits ever since the girl with the white apron, white cuffs and a skirt which was slightly too short had brought in the tea tray. Some of the biscuits had alluring silver-paper wrappings, which meant they were certainly chocolate-coated ones, and therefore complete no-noes for me.
As the meeting droned on I developed an elaborate fantasy which involved the girl and the biscuits in some very interesting combinations. I had plenty of time to do this as James, being a man concerned with the minutiae of the church finances, was not one to get through a meeting in an hour if it could run for three. Opposite me Terence, the verger, raised an eyebrow as he smoothed out the paper from one of the chocolate biscuits, licked his fingers and ran his tongue round his lips lasciviously.
“You bastard,” I hissed at him under my breath.
Father Mark cleared his throat as if to speak, but before he could do so Simon tapped his pencil on the table.
“Stop squabbling you two,” hiccoughed Simon, “we’re only on item three and I’ve got the boys at 4 o’clock. Can we p-lease get on James,” he yelped.
I thought, not for the first time, how like a spaniel our choirmaster was. Then, involuntarily, I yawned.
“Oh, dear, poor Chiders,” Simon was smirking. “Keeping you up are we? Have a biscuit, dear boy, raise your blood sugar level.”
“You know I can’t,” I muttered.
“Speak up man, can’t hear what you’re enunciating.”
Why the sanctimonious fool couldn’t speak in plain English I don’t know. Neither do I know how I suddenly had the nerve to do it, but without consciously planning to I lifted my left foot and, hidden by the folds of the tablecloth, stamped on Simon’s under the table, hard. I don’t know whether it was his left or his right foot but the effect was immediate, and gratifying. He pulled himself upright, stuck out his chest, lowered his chin and pursed his lips. Then he gathered up his papers, knocked them together on the table sharply and rose from his seat with a toss of his sandy locks.
“I am not, repeat not,” he said in a tone of righteous indignation, “staying here to be insulted.”
“For goodness sake Simon,” said James, “No-one even spoke. Control yourself and sit down. You said yourself that we needed to get on, so stop behaving like one of your choirboys.”
Simon glared at me and sat down, shuffling away from my feet and towards Father Mark, who once again cleared his throat. This time no one interrupted him.
“I think… I think…” James sat back in his chair, waiting for the aged cleric to meander to the point.
“I think… that we should, should we not, don’t you think, well – discuss the music for Easter before the choirmaster has to leave.”
This apparently innocuous statement was, as we all knew, a red rag to the raging bull that lived inside Simon’s spaniel-like form. He started on the speech I had heard so many times before. It began with a long account of his musical qualifications.
Given that anything I said would only make matters worse, I returned to my fantasy. The argument between Simon and Father Mark ran its predictable course, fuelled on both sides by biscuits. James sided with Simon, Terence with Father Mark. I watched as the four of them ran the gamut of bourbons, jammy dodgers and shortbreads.
Finally there was just one biscuit left, and it dawned on me that I, Chivers, congregational representative and lowest on the pecking order below the priest, the verger, the choirmaster and the church treasurer, could take that biscuit, and shame them into silence with a parable such as the feeding of the five thousand.
I suppose I could have done that but actually I didn’t.
What I did do was come out with a weak little joke about their argument taking the biscuit and leave quietly. Next meeting we’ll do it all over again but I’m going to assert myself then, I really am. When the girl with the short skirt brings the tea tray I’m going to take the silver-papered chocolate biscuits and feed them to the verger’s dog. That’ll show them.
Cath Barton used to sing in a church choir, and she loves chocolate-coated biscuits.