Bourne Academy 10 – The Hair Inspectors

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A pivotal moment arrived during the morning of the visit by the two government appointed inspectors. In a review meeting, the headmistress of The Bourne Academy explained their philosophy.

‘When parents ask to enrol their children at The Bourne Academy, we state how we will care for them, including their hair, and the reasoning behind each of our decisions. If the parents disapprove or their children dissent, then we demand that the parents remove their children from the academy.’

‘Isn’t that rather draconian?’ Ms Tibbs, the senior inspector, bristled.

‘Yes,’ Heather Richards, the headmistress, said calmly and proudly, with a ghost of a smile.

= * = * =

The government-appointed inspectors for educational establishments had arrived promptly at 9am. They were an odd pair.

Ms Helen Tibbs was the younger of the two but had seniority over her male colleague. Helen, in her mid-forties, had been involved with education all her life. Although she accepted the need for learning institutions to have clear guidelines, she liked them to provide a degree of flexibility and hence foster creativity amongst the young.

Helen wore a fashionable cream suit, with an above the knee pencil skirt that had a modest slit at the back. A contrasting scarlet silk shirt had the collar splayed across the lapels of her jacket that gave a hint of cleavage. She had drawn her rich auburn hair lightly back from her face, sweeping it gently upwards into an elaborate beehive-like updo perched on her crown. She had an excellent reputation for being harsh but fair in her chosen field, although her stylish appearance was closer to that of an attractive presenter from morning TV.

Roger Owen, by contrast, was a retired Major who had served in the army. A little older than Ms Tibbs, he had spent his service career on undemanding administrative duties that suited his relaxed approach to life. However, his appearance conformed to the stereotype of a retired officer. He wore a tailored dark grey suit, a crisp white shirt, and his regimental tie. With an uncompromising short back and sides haircut and a neatly trimmed moustache adorning his upper lip, his heritage was clear to all.

Heather Richards, the headmistress, welcomed the pair in her office. Mary Rogers, the youngest member of the academy’s Board of Governors, then escorted the two visitors around the establishment.

Mary was a staunch supporter of Miss Richards’ controversial methods. Her sombre skirt suit and severe flattop haircut emulated the regulated appearance exemplified by all the academy’s tutors. Although the academy did not require governors to follow the dress code, Mary wished to prove her personal support of Heather Richards and the regulations.

It was obvious to Mary that Major Owen approved of her uncompromising appearance, frequently glancing at her drastic haircut, and unconsciously nodding his approval. Disturbingly, his eyes nearly popped out of his head when he had seen the rows of students in every class, all with their neatly trimmed bowlcuts. As soon as she was able, Mary had informed the headmistress of the Major’s reaction to what she had seen.

Mary had concluded that the inspectors were satisfied with what they had seen on the tour. Helen Tibbs had made copious notes throughout, especially when voicing her concerns about hairstyles. She remarked on the uniformity of the students’ bowlcuts and the severity of the tutors’ flattops. Again, Mary communicated these worrying criticisms to Heather Richards as soon as she could.

Absorbing the feedback from Mary Rogers relating to the inspectors, Heather pondered the possible consequences of their findings. With only a brief time to go before they returned to her office after the tour, Heather contemplated how best to address their concerns should it become necessary.

= * = * =

At 11am the inspectors took a break from their tour of the academy so they could review progress with Heather Richards in her office.

‘Firstly, Miss Richards, we would like to congratulate you on how quickly you have begun to reverse the fortunes and improve the reputation of The Bourne Academy,’ Helen Tibbs, the senior inspector, commended. ‘I was once a student here myself at a time when everyone excelled,’ she added proudly.

‘Thank you, Ms Tibbs,’ Heather Richards replied, dipping her head to acknowledge the praise of the senior education inspector. ‘I have an excellent team supporting me and all the students have been unified in their desire to advance their studies.’

‘Quite so, but a matter that surprises us, and even alarms us, is the appearance of everyone. Miss Rogers, the representative of the Board of Governors, has been extremely helpful. She allowed us to observe classes in progress and the uniform appearance of students of all ages astonished us.’

‘And the striking appearance of the tutors too,’ piped up Major Owen, her colleague. ‘All presenting a smart and uniform appearance,’ he added, nodding approvingly.

‘Quite so, Major Owen,’ Ms Tibbs said, smiling indulgently at her colleague. Turning back to face the headmistress, the woman continued. ‘Both of us certainly approve of the students presenting themselves so neatly, but surely a degree of individuality would foster greater creativity?’

‘No,’ Miss Richards refuted plainly, without elaborating on her methods.

‘But all the students have identical haircuts,’ Ms Tibbs pressed, looking bewildered and sounding frustrated. ‘Why did they choose such a severe style?’

‘And jolly smart they all look too,’ Major Owen interjected. ‘A pudding bowl haircut is what we used to call it, with the back and sides all neatly shaved,’ he sighed wistfully. ‘An excellent choice.’

‘Major, please,’ Ms Tibbs implored, irritated by her colleague’s unhelpful interruptions. ‘Smart perhaps, but surely a somewhat unusual choice?’

‘They did not choose the style,’ Heather Richards said, allowing herself a mild laugh. ‘We have an academy barbershop that we ask all students to visit upon arrival. They receive their regulation haircut that I devised, and they return at regular intervals to keep their hair neat and tidy.’

‘Regulation haircut,’ Major Owen said approvingly. ‘Jolly good show.’

‘You have a barbershop?’ Ms Tibbs questioned in astonishment, talking over her colleague. ‘In an all-girl academy?’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Heather Richards patiently confirmed.

‘But what if they do not agree to the haircut?’ Ms Tibbs went on. ‘Surely you don’t force them inside the barbershop and tie them down?’ she snorted.

On hearing this, Major Owen leant forward, not wishing to miss the reply.

Heather Richards paused for effect, then replied with a wry smile. ‘No, that is not how we treat out students.’

Major Owen sat back in his seat, appearing to be disappointed.

Heather Richards knew this was a pivotal moment of the inspection. ‘When parents ask to enrol their children at The Bourne Academy, we state how we will care for them, including their hair, and the reasoning behind each of our decisions. If the parents disapprove or their children dissent, then we demand that the parents remove their children from the academy.’

‘Isn’t that rather draconian?’ Ms Tibbs bristled.

‘Yes,’ Heather said calmly and proudly, with a ghost of a smile.

The inspectors sipped their coffee in silence and took a moment to contemplate how they should proceed.

= * = * =

Heather Richards had been grateful for Mary Rogers advance information about the inspectors’ findings. It allowed her respond thoughtfully and appropriately.

‘I must say that I am uncomfortable with this, er, novel approach …’ Ms Tibbs conveyed hesitantly. ‘This novel approach to instilling, er …’

‘Discipline?’ offered her smiling colleague.

‘Yes, Major Owen,’ Ms Tibbs agreed, ‘discipline.’

‘Naturally, I respect your point of view,’ the headmistress stated gravely, indicating that she took the female inspector’s reservations seriously.

‘Personally, I don’t see a problem,’ Major Owen murmured gruffly under his breath. He did not wish to contradict his superior but felt the need to convey his own opinion. ‘I thought everyone looked splendid. A credit to you, Miss Richards.’

‘Thank you, Major,’ Heather Richards smiled.

‘But … what if, er …’ Ms Tibbs said, flicking through her notes, acting flustered. ‘What if a student arrived with really long hair?’ she demanded triumphantly. ‘What then?’ she pressed.

Major Owen leaned forward once again, biting his lip, excited to hear the answer.

Heather Richards took a deep breath and smiled cheerfully. ‘I was wondering if, in order mitigate your concerns, whether I could offer you a modest demonstration of my methods?’

Not knowing what the headmistress was suggesting, Ms Tibbs opened her mouth to speak, appeared puzzled, then closed it again, not knowing how best to respond.

‘A demonstration?’ the Major piped up enthusiastically. ‘I should say so,’ he agreed excitedly, despite having no idea of what that might entail. Although, in the context of what they had been discussing, he may have had an inkling.

‘Excellent,’ Heather Richards confirmed, coming around from behind her desk and opening a connecting door to another room. ‘Then please follow me.’

The Major eagerly jumped to his feet. Ms Tibbs shrugged dismissively and rose more slowly.

= * = * =

‘Please allow me to introduce you to Sara Dart, the academy’s barber,’ Heather announced, indicating a young woman in a short white dress standing next to a large chair. ‘Sara this is Ms Tibbs and Major Owen who are government-appointed education inspectors.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ Sara said, shaking their hands, while both stared at her head.

‘You’re bald,’ Major Owen noted accurately, but unnecessarily. His colleague shushed him, despite being equally perplexed, but she felt it was rude to make such a personal comment to a stranger.

‘No! Really?’ Sara looked astounded, holding the top of her head with both hands. ‘Yes, I am! Whatever could have happened?’

‘Sara,’ the headmistress admonished, despite enjoying her sense of humour, ‘behave yourself.’

‘Sorry, yes I am bald,’ Sara giggled. ‘Bald by choice … it’s a long story …’

‘I look forward to hearing it when we have a little more time, Miss Dart,’ the Major said, intrigued by the rare sight of a beautiful bald woman.

‘Quite so,’ Ms Tibbs uttered awkwardly and unenthusiastically, wishing to find out what the headmistress had in mind. ‘A demonstration, you said, Miss Richards?’

After Mary had forewarned her earlier about Ms Tibbs misgivings, Heather had grabbed a moment to quickly formulate a plan with the barber and the young governor. She checked her watch. If everything had come together as planned, there would be a knock on the door and, right on cue, it happened.

The door opened to reveal Mary Rogers, the young academy governor, escorting a smiling middle-aged couple and a miserable girl. The girl was wearing the academy uniform but, unusually, she was sporting thick auburn waves that she wore loose and whose neatly trimmed ends skimmed the back of her knees. It was not a very sensible hairstyle for any sort of activity. The only concession to practicality was a red velvet hairband keeping her locks back from her face.

‘Ms Tibbs and Major Owen, may I introduce Mr and Mrs Wells and their daughter Rebecca,’ Mary Rogers explained.

The parents exchanged pleasantries while their daughter kept her glum expression and barely said a word.

‘Rebecca was to join us after the mid-year break in the academic calendar,’ Heather Richards explained, taking up the reigns. ‘However, during the welcoming ceremony on that first morning, she chose to leave us unexpectedly.’

= * = * =

Two weeks earlier, Rebecca Wells had been amongst a group of mid-year joiners waiting on a bench found on the stage of The Great Hall. Sara Dart, the barber, had planned to give them all the academy’s regulation haircut in front of their fellow students. Having witnessed the barber chopping off one girl’s long hair and given her an uncompromisingly short bowlcut, Rebecca had grown increasingly anxious when Sara Dart called her forward.

Rebecca had settled nervously on the barber’s chair while Sara had shaken out her large white cape, grinning enthusiastically. Without warning, Rebecca had leapt to her feet. ‘No!’ she had screamed, before rushing down the steps of the stage and disappearing through the main entrance of the Great Hall.

Although Mary Rogers had run after her, Rebecca had remained adamant that she was not returning to have a bald barber chop her hair off. Mary, along with the headmistress, had no choice but to ask her parents to fetch her from the academy that morning and inform them that they would not allow her to return.

Subsequently, Mr and Mrs Wells had met with the headmistress and pleaded with her to allow their daughter to return to the prestigious Bourne Academy. Heather Richards eventually agreed, but only on the strict understanding that Rebecca had her hair cut and maintained in the academy’s regulation style. The parents had eagerly accepted the conditions and, when persuasion did not work, they succeeded in bribing their daughter to agree.

It was the reason that all three were at The Bourne Academy that morning.

= * = * =

Following the inspectors’ preliminary feedback that morning, Heather Richards confirmed when Mr and Mrs Wells would be returning with their daughter. Fortunately, the timing worked and would allow the academy’s barber to demonstrate her skills to the inspectors with a willing, albeit reluctant, student with long hair.

‘Rebecca, if you would kindly take a seat in Miss Dart barber’s chair,’ Heather Richards indicated, ‘and Mr and Mrs Wells you would be welcome to observe or, if you might find it too disturbing, you may leave.’

‘Oh no, we wouldn’t want to miss this,’ Mrs Wells proclaimed unexpectedly, and her husband eagerly nodded his agreement. They made their way to the chairs along one wall and waited expectantly for the show to begin.

The headmistress cast a glance in their direction and saw Major Owen standing nearby. With great concentration, he was examining the ponytails that Sara Dart had recently cut from the mid-year joiners. Brenda Shearer, the academy’s earlier barber, had started the tradition of hanging the cut hair of new students from a rail along one wall. She had accumulated an enormous collection of ponytails that she had disposed of when she left. Although it was early days, Sara Dart was keen to continue the tradition.

Observing her colleague behaving oddly, Ms Tibbs coughed to attract Major Owen’s attention. He suddenly looked and, with all eyes upon him, he dropped the hair guiltily. ‘Nice … er, that is … er, um … interesting,’ he stuttered, blushing profusely.

Meanwhile, Rebecca had sat down as directed, and Sara had quickly covered her with a large cape to prevent a repeat of her earlier escape. Arranging the girl’s abundant hair down the back of the chair, the barber then plucked the hairband from Rebecca’s head and tossed it into a rubbish bin. ‘You won’t need that thing anymore,’ Sara murmured, so no one else could hear. ‘You won’t have enough hair left to get any benefit from it in a few minutes,’ she cackled, in a parody of her words from when the girl had last sat in her chair.

Rebecca bit her lip but remained stoic, although tears were not far away while Sara brushed through her hair.

Exhibiting great concern, Helen Tibbs addressed Rebecca’s parents. ‘Mrs Wells, your daughter has adorable hair -’

‘Thank you, Ms Tibbs,’ the mother beamed with pride, interrupting the point that the inspector was intending to make.

‘Yes, well, quite so,’ Helen Tibbs acknowledged, losing her train of thought, ‘but what do you think about that bald-headed woman over there, cutting it all off?’

‘Well, it is necessary … for her to stay at the academy … obviously …. I mean, it will be more practical as she wastes a great deal of time on her hair, and Miss Richards has given us assurances as to why it is both desirable and necessary,’ Mrs Wells waffled on. ‘Actually, we’re looking forward to watching it all come off and to finally see Rebecca with a sensible hairstyle,’ Mrs Wells explained, patting her own tightly permed short curls.

‘Mum!’ Rebecca whined from the chair.

‘Now, now, young lady,’ Mr Wells piped up, wagging his finger, ‘don’t be rude to your mother.’ Turning back to face Helen Tibbs, he confirmed, rubbing his hands together, ‘Yes, we have been looking forward to this immensely.’

Sara observed Rebecca’s attentive parents who gave the impression that popcorn would be all that they needed to improve their enjoyment of the forthcoming spectacle.

‘Ms Tibbs,’ said Major Owen, ‘I do think we should allow the barber to proceed with the demonstration,’ he breathed impatiently, licking his in anticipation. And then trying to pretend he had not.

‘Right, let’s do this,’ Sara grinned, firmly securing all of Rebecca’s hair in a ponytail at the back of her head. The barber took out her scissors and brandished them menacingly, allowing Rebecca to see the blades together in the mirror. Sara then she placed the scissors around the base of the ponytail and pulled the hair taut.

Rebecca’s eyes widened. ‘Mum,’ she lamented, sounding like she was hoping for a last-minute reprieve.

‘It’s for the best, dear,’ her mother said wisely, and her father nodded his agreement. Both parents grinned as the blades crunched loudly through Rebecca’s hair.

‘It certainly is for the best, dear,’ the barber giggled mockingly.

Showing no emotion, Sara Dart separated Rebecca’s huge ponytail from her head, and held it aloft for all to witness.

‘No!’ Rebecca bleated quietly, looking disbelievingly at her severed hair dangling like a pendulum from Sara’s hand.

There was a collective gasp from those gathered in the room, but none louder than Major Owen who looked on in wonder. The headmistress took the cut hair from the barber, and she placed it on the rail with the rest of Sara’s growing collection.

‘Looking better already,’ Sara judged happily, as she used her fingers to smooth Rebecca’s remaining hair into an uneven chin-length bob.

‘Yeah, right,’ Rebecca hissed disdainfully. ‘Just get it over with.’

‘Oh, I will, dear. No needed to worry about that. With these,’ the barber confirmed.

Sara had exchanged her scissors for heavy duty red hairclippers and turned them on. The loud, insistent roar of the motor drowned out the occasional whimper from the girl in the chair.

The barber used the blade of the hairclippers to create the perimeter of a neat cap of hair covering the top of Rebecca’s head. It sat high above her ears and exposed her neck. Sara fashioned a fringe halfway up Rebecca’s forehead. Using a highly efficient foil shaver, Sara removed the fine bristles on Jessica’s neck and temples, revealing smooth white skin. The completed style presented an exceedingly fresh and very disciplined appearance.

‘I really must protest …’ Ms Tibbs, the head of the inspection team remonstrated, feeling someone needed to say something, although she was unsure what.

‘Why? She has a severe and practical bowlcut,’ the headmistress declared with a satisfied smile, unashamedly pleased with the outcome. ‘Just as we like it,’ she continued, ‘and just what she needed.’

‘Absolutely! My daughter looks delightful,’ Mrs Wells commended, and her husband nodded his agreement. ‘And thank you Miss Dart for performing such an accomplished transformation.’

‘Here, here,’ Major Owen added in agreement, spellbound.

Sara Dart beamed at the praise, as she whisked away the cape from Rebecca Wells who trudged towards her parents.

Miss Tibbs could not believe that everyone else felt so different to her after witnessing such a heinous act on the poor girl’s hair. ‘Are you feeling okay, Rebecca?’ Miss Tibbs asked, concerned, as she passed by.

With stopping, Rebecca stared at Miss Tibbs in such a way as to suggest it was her fault. The implication was that her haircut was a spectacle put on for the benefit of the inspectors.

As Rebecca reached her parents, she unenthusiastically accepted a hug from each of them, while Mrs Wells giggled as she ruffled her daughter’s short hair. ‘You look so cute dear, and I you will find it very practical.’ Her daughter did not respond.

‘Rebecca, Miss Rogers will now take you to join your first lesson as a student of The Bourne Academy,’ Heather Richards announced. ‘Mr and Mrs Wells you would be welcome to join me and our other distinguished visitors for a light lunch if you wish?’

Rebecca’s parents turned down the invitation, but they were gushing with their praise for the academy before they left.

‘Fascinating,’ Major Owen murmured, in a world of his own, as he leaned against the wall at the back of the room, fingering Rebecca’s recently cut hair. He slowly looked up to see his colleague, the headmistress and the barber watching him with bemused expressions. ‘What?’ he asked innocently.

= * = * =

After the high drama of Sara Dart giving the hesitant new student her regulation haircut, the later buffet lunch was an informal affair. However, during the relaxed conversation, Heather Richards noticed that Major Owen’s gaze regularly drifted towards his senior colleague. Without the distraction of other matters, it was plain that Major Owen found Ms Tibbs very appealing.

Earlier that day there had been no suggestion that the two inspectors shared anything other than a professional relationship. Subsequently, Heather’s observations led her to believe that he would not be averse to enjoying a more personal connection with his colleague. However, Heather found Helen Tibbs difficult to read and she was unable to decide whether she would feel the same.

A peculiar motion by the Major had grabbed Heather Richards’ attention. When he glanced warmly towards Helen Tibbs, his look of approval would flicker momentarily when his eyes rested on her elaborate updo. Fleetingly, he would pull a face as if he had sucked a lemon.

To a lesser extent, Major Owen reacted similarly when he examined Heather’s less flamboyant bun. Earlier, there was no mistaking his appreciation of short hair. Equally plain was his dislike for long hair, even worn up and out of the way.

‘Before we continue this afternoon, Miss Richards, I would just like to freshen up,’ Ms Tibbs said, interrupting Heather’s musings and rising to her feet. ‘Please excuse me, Major.’

When the door closed behind her, Major Owen sighed mournfully. ‘Always she says “Major,” even when we are just having a break. ‘Never “Roger”,’ he sighed more loudly.

Appreciating why Ms Tibbs’ stiffness and formality had upset the Major so much, Heather indulged him. ‘Well, you have to give these things time … but I can see there’s a mutual attraction.’

‘Pardon?’ Major Owen asked, suddenly realising he had voiced his disappointment. ‘Oh, sorry, I was not really talking to, er … sorry, just thinking aloud really …’

‘Yes, Roger,’ Heather empathised, ‘I quite understand. She is certainly a lovely woman.’

‘Yes …’ he drawled, but not as convincingly as one might have expected. After a moment of thought, he added ruefully, ‘Yes, she is lovely but – now please don’t take this the wrong way – very lovely … apart from all this business.’

Twirling his index finger around and around his head signified what he meant by “this business”.

‘You don’t like her hair worn in that way?’ Heather questioned, trying to sound surprised.

He squirmed in his chair, clearly uncomfortable to be discussing the subject with a woman. However, he seemed willing to take the risk of gaining more insight by talking to someone who had instigated haircut regulations at a girl’s academy. ‘I know,’ he admitted, ‘it is a silly, er … quirk. But I assume it stems from being in the services for so long.’

He paused, as if hoping Heather would say it was not “silly”. But she deliberately chose to remain silent to encourage the Major to explain further.

‘Everyone in the services had short hair,’ Major Owen continued. ‘I enforced it on the men under my command … and the women too when I could get away with it,’ he confided. ‘Sadly, women would also opt for silly regulation buns in hairnets at the back of their head. Infuriating, but I suppose it had the redeeming quality of almost looking like a short haircut,’ he reminisced, but clearly still frustrated by the events from his past.

Heather was still silent but nodded sagely to signify she was listening and interested.

After a short pause, the Major mentally shook himself, realising he had allowed his mind to wander. ‘Still, you have done wonders here, Miss Richards. Excellent work.’

‘Heather, please … well, when we’re off-duty, as it were,’ she invited with a smile, ‘and thank you for all your kind words about my methods.’

‘I hope I have not put my foot in it as your hair is on top of your head too, but far neater than Helen’s … I mean, Ms Tibbs … hers is all flouncy and … and, well …’ the Major apologised, blushing a little.

As he ran out of steam, the Major realised he had revealed far more about his “quirks” than he was comfortable with. Heather simply smiled to show she had not taken offence, then patted her bun.

Changing the subject slightly, Major Owen posed a question. ‘Given how everyone around you now has short hair – or no hair in the case of Miss Dart – it is a tad surprising that you still permit yourself a great deal of long hair … tucked up in that bun thing of yours. Doesn’t anyone ask why you are exempt from your own rules?’

‘Yes,’ Heather answered honestly, although it happened surprisingly infrequently. She left her response hanging enigmatically when the Major clearly expected her to elaborate.

‘So, Heather, do you ever let your hair down?’ Roger guffawed loudly at his weak double-entendre.

As Heather contemplated whether it was a genuine question or whether he was flirting, the door of her office swung open.

= * = * =

‘What was that about hair, Major Owen?’ Ms Tibbs asked sternly. Her elaborate updo looking more fluffy, more flouncy and more beehive-like than when she had left a little earlier. Helen Tibbs had clearly subjected her hair to considerable maintenance.

‘Just saying about all the kids … and that,’ he lied nervously. ‘Er, before we reconvene, I just need to find the little boys room?’ he enquired, waving a hand vaguely to distract the women from his embarrassing outburst.

‘There’s not too much call for one of those rooms in an academy for girls, Major Owen,’ the headmistress remarked, stifling her laughter, ‘but there’s a suitable cloakroom just along the corridor on the left if you should wish to use it.’

With that, the Major rushed out the door, blushing slightly, and the two women shared a moment of laughter.

= * = * =

The two women sipped their coffee while waiting for Major Owen to return from his bathroom break. ‘Roger’s an attractive man, isn’t he?’ Heather remarked. ‘By that, I mean he’s easy on the eye … but also charming and dependable … and he certainly possesses a fine sense of humour.’

With each word Ms Tibbs looked slightly more menacing. Heather Richards recognised jealousy when she saw it and, having chosen her words carefully and with purpose, it was exactly the reaction she had hoped to provoke.

‘Yes,’ Helen Tibbs snapped harshly. She then took a deep breath to calm herself. ‘Yes, I suppose he is … not that he ever looks at me in … well, you know … that sort of way,’ she added wistfully.

Heather, given the observations she had made earlier and the Major’s own admissions, had thought about contradicting the inspector, but Ms Tibbs was in full flow.

‘Please do not misunderstand me. We work well together, and I enjoy his company. I suppose he does have his funny ways … but we all do, don’t we. And he dresses very smartly. I try to dress nicely to impress him, but I am not sure he even notices. And I style my hair elaborately for him … it is time consuming to do all this,’ she twirled a finger above her head, ‘but he just seems to ignore anything I do, and I sometimes wonder why I even bother doing it for him …’

He certainly does notice, Heather reflected, but she chose not to voice her thoughts. ‘I understand,’ Heather empathised, avoiding potential controversy.

Based on her recent conversations, a spark of an idea came to Heather, and it refused to go away. Turning it over in her mind, she quickly fleshed out the practicalities and produced a plan.

‘I mean, it would be unprofessional to leave my hair loose at work,’ Miss Tibbs complained, patting her beehive. ‘I would if we were alone, of course, but when it’s as long as it is, I am obliged to put up my hair.’

As Heather was considering how best to answer the conundrum that Ms Tibbs had raised, the office door suddenly swung open to interrupt the women’s musings.

= * = * =

‘What was all that about hair, Ms Tibbs?’ Major Owen asked on his return, reminding everyone of his enthusiasm for the subject.

‘Just saying about all the kids … and that,’ she lied nervously, echoing the Major’s response to her earlier question, but with no sense of irony.

‘Ah,’ Roger acknowledged, nodding sagely but doubting the accuracy of her assertion. ‘Right …’

‘So, Miss Richards,’ Ms Tibbs declared stiffly, leaving behind the recent informality, ‘Major Owen and I would now like to meet each of your heads of department.’

‘Of course,’ the headmistress agreed. ‘It will be my pleasure.’

As the inspectors were gathering their possessions, Heather Richards scribbled down the plan she had formulated earlier and popped the note under Sara Dart’s door. She knew Sara would be as excited as her when Heather Richards returned with the inspectors later that afternoon.

‘We’ll start with Miss Georgina Sutton, our newly appointed Head of Science,’ Heather Richards announced. ‘Please follow me and, once we have finished we will pop back here later to enjoy something lovely.’


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