The picture of Annette Crosbie that I keep above the mantlepiece looked down at me sympathetically. A disc sat on the radiogram where Linda had left it. It was our song: "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy", sung by Sydney Devine. I remembered the times we'd held one another and listened to it, tears of laughter running down our cheeks.
But that was in the past. Linda had gone. The charms of Captain Tim, the Eye Up High traffic-spotting helicopter pilot, had been too much for me to compete with. I was just about to pour a shot and drink to old times when the telephone rang. It was Micky the Braveheart. I took my orders from him now. "Ultra Violet" Ray Robertson, so called because he was invisible, kept out of my way.
"I'd like you to work in England for a week," said Micky. "What's wrong, think enough people don't hate me as it is?" I snapped. "I know they haven't come to fully appreciate the advantages of private inspections down there," he said, "but I don't see why you take such offence."
"Forget it. It's me, not you. Send me the file and I'll go."
It turned out that I would be reporting back to Braveheart rather than the man they called "Woodenhead", which was a relief. Also, I was not expected to seek out any of the 15,000 teachers he wanted shot of, though I was to use the seven-point plan for teacher assessment.
The school was called Grudgingly Comprehensive. Initially, I had no problems with the inspection though it did surprise me that so many crucifixes were waved in my direction at a non-denominational school. Then I went to art. The head of department was a real doll. She was also supremely good at her job and I held up the big seven after the first lesson. She seemed a bit embarrassed and said they were a good class. We got talking and took to one another. Her name was Felicia. "That's the name of the latest model of my favourite car," I told her and she smiled.
Then she did something curious. She put on a tape player - "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers - and led me to the potter's wheel. She started it up, put on some clay and stood behind me, close, guiding my hands. We rose and fell with the music, sometimes pressing firmly, sometimes lightly until a perfectly acceptable pot stood on the wheel. As the song faded and the turntable came to rest I sighed. Just for a minute I had forgotten about Linda.
I had to sit in on one of Felicia's assistants the following afternoon. He got a six. Preparation, organisation and so on were fine but he couldn't handle the kids. They were obviously killing time at school, totally uninterested in art and out for trouble. When I told Felicia she said nothing but led me to the potter's wheel again. She put the clay on and we began to shape another pot. Or try to. The stuff was everywhere and we quit after the first chorus. Felicia helped me to clean myself up. "I'm sorry," she said. "That's mud from the playing-fields. I doubt that there's a potter in the country who could do anything with that."
"Not a very subtle metaphor," I said. "For a pretty unsubtle inspection system." I wiped a piece of mud from the side of her nose. "It wouldn't work, you and I," I said sadly. "I'm from the other side."
"Now who's being unsubtle?" I gave her the genuine Helen Liddell compact I'd bought for Linda. As she looked in its mirror I left. If the M74 was clear I'd be over the border in two hours.