There was a bit of a scene at school this morning.

When John and I arrived, we were confronted by closed gates and a small crowd with leaflets.

I didn’t recognise any of the people in the crowd and hadn’t a clue what they were doing there.

“Excuse me, we need to get in,” I said, trying to push past a young woman in a very sleek, claret overcoat.

“It’s closed. We’re on strike.”

“What!” It was news to me.

“There was a letter. And it was on the local news last night.”

I found her unnecessarily smug.

“I didn’t get any letter,” I said.

John piped up. “Hey look! it’s in my bag.”

At this the young woman increased her smugness by several percent.

“This is very inconvenient,” I told her. I had intended to spend the day tracking down Laurence.

The young woman gasped at my callousness.

“Well I’m sorry but most parents back us, actually.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they know that our pay and conditions affect the quality of our teaching.”

John pulled me down to his level. He seemed very concerned about this statement.

“That’s Miss Cutting. I think her pay and conditions must be terrible.”

Sometimes you can’t stifle a laugh and nor should you when someone is as po-faced as Miss Cutting. I laughed richly an inch from her nose.

We turned on our heels and left.


And so John came with me on the bus all the way to the hospital and nobody stopped us going up to Dr Lorenz’s department and we waited on the chairs among the overweight, elderly ladies and enjoyed a copy of Hello together.

I felt particularly sorry for a wet-eyed woman opposite us who held a wad of tissues stubbornly to her neck, even while attempting to flick through a magazine with the other hand. John and I tried discreetly to catch a glimpse of what was under the tissues but they never left her throat.

A nurse called: “Mrs Harkness.”

Our wet-eyed lady stood, with some difficulty, and told us (as though she were merely continuing a conversation with us): “This place is a joke. It’s never been the same since my Dr Henge left.”

Mrs Harkness … Mrs Harkness. I knew that name.

I leapt up to catch the nurse’s arm before he escorted Mrs Harkness into a side room.

“I wonder, is Dr Lorenz here today?”

The young man appeared puzzled.

“Have you got an appointment with him?”

“No, I came on the off-chance.”

He looked at Mrs Harkness and Mrs Harkness looked straight back at him, the bundle of tissues still firmly attached to her neck.

“Oh don’t you know?” asked Mrs Harkness and reached out her free hand to pat my arm.

I looked in panic at the dolorous face of the young nurse.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly and in profound sympathy.

“Oh my God,” I cried out. “He’s died! Why did no one tell me?”

Mrs Harkness frowned and replaced one hand with the other at her neck.

“What? He’s not dead. He’s been suspended pending enquiries into his conduct.”

John was now by my side, burying his head in my thigh. He wasn’t liking this, I could tell. But I had to know. I really had to.

“He’s not… please tell me he’s not… Oh please don’t let him be a groper.”

Mrs Harkness raised a superior eyebrow.

“Oh a groper as well, is he? Disgusting. Let’s just say my Dr Henge never took liberties with his patients.”

And she and the nurse paraded off and left us in front of a hostile audience of tutting women. You could hear the word “groper” being passed breathlessly about as we fled down the corridor.