…used of a person whose reckless actions are probably the result of one or other kind of foolishness    

The phrase which was to haunt Oscar MacSweeny forever, or for at least the next few days, was also to be the phrase which was to set him free, but he did not, at that point, consider himself to be imprisoned. Of course, after the event, some days after that phrase was uttered, his mind inevitably changed, Oscar saw things altogether differently. Of course, he now thought, he had been imprisoned. Of course, he now thought, he had been a variety of slave; he had been working beneath the weight of convention and had been dragged back by the inertia of habit. Of course. It was all so obvious two or three days later, after the event. But right at that point, as the phrase was uttered by the headmistress, Oscar was shocked, it is certainly fair to say that he was shocked, and he was straight away haunted by those words, as though those words were uttered in a distant century or screamed at him in a half remembered nightmare.

“You’re not quite Didsbury Girls material,” the headmistress said, as though she was confiding to Oscar that he had, through no fault of his own, contracted a rather embarrassing, but deadly, disease.

I don’t understand, Oscar thought to himself, which gave him a rather novel feeling, at least a feeling which had been for a long time lost to him, of being something… a feeling of being… Oscar could not quite settle on a term for this feeling nor begin to describe it. Oscar tried, in the space of twenty to thirty seconds which Mrs R P Merryweather allowed him to work out the implications of what she had just said, to work out what being “Didsbury Girls material” actually meant. But he couldn’t quite disentangle the subtleties of the matter there and then.

Recalled to the oak panelled here and now, Oscar shook his head to assure himself and his one-person audience that he was totally aware of the dire implications, of the weightiness, of what had just been said.

“Well Regina…”

The Headmistress winced at the use of her first name.

Oscar attempting to back-peddle, though unsure what he was back-peddling from, smiled inanely, politely coughed and attempted to adopt a look of complete self-assurance, which he had always associated with gently cradling his chin in his fingers and directing his gaze into an imagined distance above his interlocutor’s left shoulder.

Oscar soon realised it was required of him to utter something, anything to keep up the pretence of there being conducted a conversation between two intelligent and mature adults.

“I’m Didsbury Girls material through and through, Mrs Merryweather.” Oscar nodded in order to put some substance into his argument. “One hundred and ten percent.”

“Excuse me?”

“One-hundred percent.” Oscar assumed his maths was at fault.

The headmistress sighed a sigh of impatience or irritation or a combination of the two.

“You’re not quite Didsbury Girls material,” she pronounced.

It would take Oscar quite some time to work out the full implications of this repetition, that the statement was now being repeated, which gave it the weight of a sentence having been passed down in this oak-panelled vestibule of wisdom.

And long before Oscar did work out the full implications of this statement, Mrs R P Merryweather, Headmistress, harridan, and spawn of something hateful, had launched into a torrent of what could only be called abuse, a torrent of abuse so abusive, yet so eloquently delivered, as to render its object speechless as well as completely and utterly incapable of even listening, as the echoes of one statement resounded and attempted to resonate with the subsequent statement, resulting in a cacophony of dissonant, though not altogether unpleasant, sounds.

Instead of listening, perhaps prompted by a word or two of the headmistress’s, Oscar’s mind wandered off to a morning at the beginning of last term when he had been sitting at the back of senior assembly, listening attentively to the headmistress’s foot stamping rant on the evils of paedophiles, cocaine addicts and the chewers of chewing-gum, when he absentmindedly blew one of those little bubbles that you can just about form with a piece of over chewed and hardened sugar-free gum, one which bursts smartly with a loud and harsh snap, a snap which would have announced to all of those present, two-hundred and twenty six young ladies, who turned their heads in unison, and the purple face of Mrs Regina Merryweather, that he was one of the afore mentioned paedophiles, cocaine addicts or chewers of chewing-gum.

“I hold my hand up to the allegation of the chewing of gum,” Oscar stated in a very serious voice, once the torrent had ended and the echoes had dissipated, but he couldn’t stop a brief smile forming on his lips.

Mrs R P Merryweather pushed her chair back, stood up and rested the knuckles of both hands on the polished wood of her desk.

“I apologise unreservedly. I am guilty.”

Mrs R P Merryweather, the red-faced headmistress, unaccustomed to being confronted with such a blatant lack of awe and terror, stretched her eyes open wide enough to give Oscar a generous view of the engorged veins which encompassed the off-white of her eyes.

“I have sinned,” Oscar admitted. “What can I say? I am a sinner.”

Oscar’s face relaxed into the innocent smile of a child, but on reflection, quickly changed this smile to the grimace of a contrite employee upon receiving a lengthy and comprehensive bollocking.

When Oscar left the oak panelled office of Mrs R P Merryweather shortly afterwards, he couldn’t have said what it was that finally brought both him and the rather substantial figure of the headmistress into such close proximity, nor could he have sworn in a court of law who shoved who first. What occupied the forefront of Oscar’s mind was the question of whether or not he was in fact fired.

The idea of returning to Mrs Regina Merryweather’s office in order to seek clarification didn’t immediately suggest itself to Oscar. But one phrase which now resurfaced in his more than a little unbalanced mind, disentangling itself from such phrases as “hell and high water,” and “utter lack of respect,” as well as the phrase “How dare you!” which had been repeated several times and in successively deeper tones of voice, though all the time at a volume commensurate with a loss of control, was the phrase “You have the audacity…” And Oscar had to admit to himself that indeed he had; Oscar had “the audacity”, not just any audacity, but his own particular brand.


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