Vera had proved invaluable in my first few weeks as
a headmaster. She knew how to deal with the avalanche
of circulars from County Hall, check registers, collect
dinner money, keep accounts and answer awkward telephone
calls. According to her official job description, Vera
was a part-time ‘Clerical Assistant’ but
no one would have dared to call her anything other than
In her mid-fifties, Vera was a tall, slim, elegant
woman with neatly permed, silver-grey hair. She was
very proud of her job and extremely protective of her
own space in the office we shared. Her desk was always
tidy and she insisted that Ruby never came near it.
When Ruby knocked gently on the door and asked if she
could collect the wastepaper from the bin, Vera would
leap to the defence of her little empire. She would
stand with arms folded in the office doorway, refusing
admittance, like a slim ear of corn bravely defying
a huge, red, combine harvester. In the school office
Vera reigned supreme.
Her appearance was always immaculate. She would arrive
at school wearing a conservative blue suit or office-grey
two-piece from Marks and Spencer, her favourite shop.
Vera was a spinster and lived in the vicarage on the
Morton Road with her brother, Joseph, who was both vicar
of the parish and Chairman of the School Governors.
He, like his sister, had never married and Vera looked
after him in a maternal way, making his meals and tidying
his library of dusty books.
Vera worked tirelessly each week filling the church
with flowers. Whilst this was a labour of love, the
real love of her life was her three cats, Treacle, Jess
and Maggie. She called them her ‘little darlings’
and stroked them with her long fingers whenever they
demanded her attention. Her favourite was Maggie, a
black cat with distinctive white paws, named after Margaret
Thatcher, who was regarded by Vera as the rising star
of the Conservative Party.
‘She will be our first woman Prime Minister, just
you wait and see,’ she used to tell a disbelieving
audience in the staff-room.