Bourne Academy 11 – Inspection or Introspection

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‘Welcome back,’ Heather Richards said warmly to the two government-appointed education inspectors. ‘I trust you had a productive afternoon escorted by Miss Rogers and had the opportunity speak to all the heads of department as you requested.’

‘Yes, thank you,’ Miss Tibbs replied curtly, but I wish to warn you we have identified three significant issues that we will be detailing in our report. The government will require you to -’

‘Surely, Miss Tibbs, they are just minor observations,’ Major Owen, the more junior of the inspectors suggested, interrupting his boss, trying to calm the waters. ‘We can list them, but no immediate action should be mandatory.’

‘I disagree,’ Miss Tibbs snapped. ‘Now, please don’t interrupt me while I conclude our proceedings for the day.’

Over lunch, the efficient Ms Helen Tibbs had mellowed a little in the company of Heather Richards, the academy’s headmistress. However, she had disclosed her attraction to Major Owen, which she had never done with anyone before. Afterwards she felt foolish and grumpy, especially as his ambivalence throughout the afternoon was a constant reminder that he did not share her feelings.

Major Owen’s disregard had no bounds. Whenever they were on the same assignment, she focused on looking professional, dressed nicely and styled her long hair attractively. However, rather than show any interest in her during the afternoon, he seemed far more interest in ogling the heads of departments with their ridiculous, although admittedly practical and easy to manage, regulation flattop haircuts.

Miss Tibbs’ petulant mood had undoubtedly caused her to upgrade the minor observations to significant issues, Heather Richards surmised.

‘So, in conclusion, Miss Richards, you must provide a satisfactory response to the significant issues we have identified within seven days from now. You must then implement remedial action within one month. Failure to do so will negatively impact the establishment’s rating, and that may impact your tenure at The Bourne Academy,’ Miss Tibbs smirked.

‘I see,’ Heather Richards said pensively. ‘Naturally, I will endorse your findings and act immediately. I see these failings as an opportunity for the academy to improve in those areas, rather than falling short of my personal standards.’

Miss Tibbs screwed up her face as if she had chewed a lemon. She had wanted the headmistress to be as annoyed as she was, even if she was being unfair. Still feeling vindictive, she contemplated whether there were any other minor observations that she could upgrade to significant failings. Anything, to shake Miss Richards’ irritating confidence.

Heather knew that Miss Tibbs had exaggerated the issues that they had found. Given the inspector’s relaxed demeanour over lunch, she deduced that something had happened during the afternoon that had caused her annoyance. Or, more likely, something that had not happened in relation to her colleague reciprocating her feelings.

Everyone remained silent for a short while, reflecting on what Miss Tibbs had said and all the implications. Miss Tibbs suddenly felt awkward, not knowing how to professionally conclude their meeting. Unable to think of anything useful to say, she characteristically and meaninglessly uttered, ‘Quite so.’

Major Owen had become increasingly uncomfortable as his boss seemed determined to darken the mood. He decided to take charge of the situation. ‘Helen, I think you and Heather should have a little chat together before we go, to clear the air,’ he suggested diplomatically. ‘Just so we are all clear on where we all are. To prevent anyone doing anything too hasty.’

‘Hasty? You?’ she snapped rudely, but the Major took it on his firm chin.

‘While you do that,’ he went on, ignoring her taunt, ‘I just need to need to pop next door and clarify a few matters with Miss Dart, the academy barber.’

He marched purposefully to the adjoining door, knocked, and a voice invited him in. The door closed behind him.

‘Go on, you’ll enjoy chatting to the baldy young barber, I’m sure,’ Miss Tibbs hissed in a mocking tone, ‘far more than talking to me anyway.’

Helen Tibbs realised she had embarrassed herself in front of the headmistress, but she could think of nothing to say to ease the tension in the room. The headmistress chose to remain quiet, forcing Miss Tibbs to speak eventually.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Richards,’ Helen Tibbs grudgingly apologised, ‘but that man can be so frustrating. I … er, hang on, did he just call me “Helen”?’ Heather nodded. ‘He never calls me Helen, even when we are just on our own. He really did?’ Heather nodded again. ‘Gosh …’ Helen mused thoughtfully.

= * = * =

‘So, Miss Dart, thanks for agreeing to see me again,’ Major Owen, the more junior of the hair inspectors, said. ‘My colleague is just concluding our business with Miss Richards, and I have just one or two more points I would like to discuss with you.’

‘No problem, Rog, and you can call me Sara, if you like,’ Sara Dart invited with a giggle.

Major Roger Owen felt flustered. As far as he could recall, no one had ever called him “Rog”. Given his quirks related to hair or, as he preferred to call them, “interests”, he had engineered the perfect opportunity to discuss them further. Under the guise of business, he had put himself in the unlikely position of being able to talk about it with a young female barber who happened to be bald. He decided that he was not going to let a little over-familiarity stand in his way of a deep and meaningful conversation about his interests.

‘I understand that until recently you were a student at the academy, and then took over the role of the barber when the previous incumbent left,’ he summarised. ‘Oh, and along the way, you ended up bald.’

Sara giggled before relating her story. She described how she and two friends had formulated a plan to discredit the new headmistress when she first arrived. Most students and tutors had initially viewed Heather Richards methods as unfair and too dogmatic. The plan required the three of them to shave each other and send evidence that the new headmistress had ordered their shaving as a punishment.

Although only Sara ended up bald, that should have been sufficient for the plan to succeed. However, it backfired when the academy barber revealed that she had filmed the conspirators use of her premises. Although the academy gave all three students a severe reprimand, it stopped short of expelling them. Unexpectedly, Sara found a new niche. Not only did she enjoy being bald, but she also loved assisting the academy barber in her work. So, she became the obvious choice to take on the role when the original barber left.

The Major paid close attention to Sara’s every word and he had asked probing questions relating to the process of haircutting and shaving. She had seen the great interest he had shown in the short hairstyles worn by tutors and students. Together, it confirmed Sara’s view that he had more than a passing professional interest in women’s hair and, particularly, short hair. Sara, never one to judge, found it amusing rather than a source of concern.

‘Quite fascinating, Sara,’ Major Owen said breathlessly once she had finished her tale and he had run out of questions.

‘So, what do you think of your colleague’s hair, Rog?’ Sara asked the Major bluntly.

Major Owen spluttered, not knowing how to respond to such a personal question posed by a bald youngster who just happened to be a barber. The scenario more closely resembled the fantasy stories about haircuts that he enjoyed reading online, except this was real. ‘It looks very professional,’ he replied diplomatically.

‘My boss tells me Miss Tibbs keeps her hair long to please you, Rog,’ Sara announced. The Major’s jaw dropped. ‘Says all her past boyfriends told her never to cut her long hair, so she has not. She is just growing it longer and longer as she assumes that any man that might show interest in her will want her to have long hair. So, is that right, Rog?’

‘No!’ Major Owen refuted vehemently, as if Sara had contradicted one of his most deeply held beliefs concerning women and their hair. Which, inadvertently, she had. ‘Now you are just making me sound shallow and silly. She is a special woman but there is no chance she would have any interest in an old buffer like me. However, I -’

‘But Rog -’ Sara tried to get a word in, but Major Owen held up a hand to silence her.

‘However, I do think she would look so much more attractive with a neat and proper hairstyle rather than all that uppity business,’ he stated, twirling a finger around his head. ‘But, obviously, it’s her decision …’ he added with an air of resignation.

‘Sexier too?’ Sara ventured with a provocative grin.

‘Yes, dammit, she would look sexier too,’ he responded emphatically, without thinking, then blushed as soon as he realised what he had said.

‘Who, would look sexier, Major Owen?’ Miss Tibbs enquired as she walked through the door alongside the headmistress.

A deeply embarrassed and extremely anxious Major cast his eyes down to the floor, while his face reddened even more.

= * = * =

‘Helen and I have been having a few words, Roger,’ Heather Richards confessed. ‘And most of them have been about you,’ she added pointedly.

‘What?’ Major Owen asked, flustered. ‘Er, sorry … pardon, Miss Richards?’

‘Helen is considering making some changes to her appearance so that you will take more notice of her,’ Heather went on, maintaining an innocent demeanour.

Helen Tibbs looked astonished as the headmistress shared this admission with the Major.

‘What?’ Major Owen asked again, clearly rattled under the gaze of the three women surrounding him. ‘Miss Tibbs, I think we have concluded our inspection of the academy, and it is getting later, so now we should take our leave of these good people.’

Miss Tibbs ignored the Major’s desperate plea to escape from the increasingly embarrassing situation. ‘Hang on, Heather,’ Miss Tibbs complained, dropping the formality now that the headmistress had raised personal matters. ‘It’s not really the time to discuss my appearance … or the place …’

‘Well, it’s certainly the place,’ Sara giggled, waving her arm expansively around her barbershop. ‘And I’ve definitely got the time for you,’ she added, rubbing her hands together eagerly.

Earlier, after the separate lunchtime chats with the two inspectors, Heather Richards had formulated a plan. She later discussed with Sara Dart and, if things turned out as expected by the end of the afternoon, they both knew the roles they should play to maintain the inspectors support of the academy.

‘What?’ Major Owen asked again, looking at each woman for answers but still failing to understand anything of what was going on.

‘I think you should take a seat, Helen, don’t you?’ Heather Richards suggested, as Sara Dart spun her barber’s chair around and held out a hand invitingly.

= * = * =

Heather Richards’ suggestion that she should sit in the barber’s chair shocked Miss Tibbs.

Major Owen’s expression flickered between total astonishment and excited anticipation.

In a trance, Miss Tibbs allowed Heather Richards, the headmistress, to guide her towards the chair. With Sara’s help they eased her backwards, so she fell into the chair.

As soon as she sat down, Sara began to unpin Helen’s massive updo. It was a longer and more challenging task than she expected.

‘What are you doing?’ Helen Tibbs demanded indignantly, her formal tone returning to assert herself, embarrassed by the Major’s presence. In Helen’s peculiar mind, the letting down of her long hair in public was tantamount to stripping off all her clothes. ‘Stop! Please …’

But Sara ignored her, keen to follow through on the plan she had concocted with the headmistress earlier that afternoon. She continued plucking grips, slides, and bands from the inspector’s head and building up a considerable pile of ironmongery on the shelf below the mirror.

‘How on earth do you walk around with all this weight on your head,’ Sara said, exasperated.

‘I have to,’ Helen said, ‘as it is needed to keep all my hair up.’

‘Ridiculous,’ the bald barber asserted, removing the last of the clamps and allowing a waterfall of glossy thick hair to tumble down the back of the chair, almost reaching the floor. Apart from Helen herself, those in the room were the first people to see it in its full glory for a considerable time.

‘Oh, I say,’ Major Owen sighed, his breath coming in short bursts at he witnessed the magnificent sight. He had little else to say, but his stunned expression said it all.

‘Remember what we were discussing, Helen,’ the headmistress pitched in, watching Sara create a huge ponytail at the back of the inspector’s head.

Helen Tibbs looked at the headmistress disbelievingly, unable to comprehend that what they had discussed might be close to becoming a reality. She needed to stop the madness. ‘Yes, but -’

Turning towards Major Owen, Heather interrupted Helen’s show of displeasure. ‘Major, would like to watch Miss Tibbs receive a nice short haircut that she’s been longing to get for some time.’

‘Rather!’ he eagerly agreed, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of seeing all that magnificent hair chopped off. Then he realised what Heather Richards had said. ‘Have you really wanted to cut you hair for some time, Helen?’

Helen Tibbs slowly looked up. ‘Yes,’ she responded timidly. ‘I kept it long because I thought that is what all men liked. But, in the future … after settling down, I expected to cut it … at the appropriate time …’

‘Well, this is one man who much prefers women to have short hair,’ the Major remonstrated.

‘Oh,’ Helen Tibbs said, puzzled by the meaning behind her colleague’s statement. ‘Whatever do you mean, Major?’

‘We can discuss that in more detail this evening, Helen,’ he barked with authority, as if he were back in the armed services. ‘We will do so over an excellent meal at my favourite restaurant,’

‘Gosh, Major … er, Roger. Thank you, that would be lovely,’ Miss Tibbs simpered.

‘So, Helen, you should take this opportunity,’ Major Owen stated forcefully. ‘Today. Now.’

‘Opportunity?’ Helen asked, her confused mind overtaken by events.

‘The opportunity to have your hair cut, Helen,’ Heather Richards clarified, ‘and to show off your new hairstyle over dinner, with Roger, this evening.’

Miss Tibbs’ mind finally caught up with events. Anxiously, she looked at herself in the mirror, her incredibly long hair held firmly in a ponytail by Sara Dart. Her eyes widened. ‘Oh, I’m not really sure …’

= * = * =

‘I’m sure,’ Sara Dart giggled in response to the doubts expressed by Miss Helen Tibbs regarding the cutting of her hair. She gave Helen’s bountiful ponytail a playful tug as she took scissors from the pocket of her tunic. ‘Rog, do you want to do the honours?’ Sara asked, proffering her scissors in the Major’s direction.

‘What?’ the Major questioned anxiously, his earlier confidence suddenly deserting him. ‘No, I could not do that. I …’

Despite his bluster and apparent unwillingness, Heather noticed the sparkle in his eyes at the prospect of severing such a magnificent quantity of hair. Sara noticed the bulge in his trousers.

‘Please, Roger,’ Helen Tibbs said, taking a deep breath. ‘I will only go through with this transformation if you would do me the honour of cutting off my hair.’

To Heather Richards, she felt she was intruding on the most intimate of moments between two lovers. The Major eagerly grasped the scissors and placed them around the base of Miss Tibbs’ ponytail. Although, to Heather’s knowledge, the two inspectors had never shared anything close to intimacy, their world was undoubtedly pivoting on this single moment in time.

‘Are you certain about this, Helen?’ the Major panted with excitement.

‘Oh, just get on with it, Rog,’ Sara murmured under her breath, never herself in the least reticent about cutting anyone’s hair. But neither participant heard, only having eyes for each other.

‘Quite certain, Roger … but please be quick, and don’t give me the opportunity to change my mind,’ Helen replied, her voice trembling.

It was all the encouragement Major Owen needed. As Sara Dart pulled Helen’s ponytail taut, he firmly closed the blades of the scissors. Hairs separated but, such was the thickness of Miss Tibbs’ ponytail, that the Major needed to continue sawing through it for a considerable time before he had severed it completely. But suddenly the ponytail came free, and Helen’s head shot forward, relieved of its burden. A deep long sigh by Helen accompanied the moment, suggesting she had been holding her breath.

Sara was holding up Helen’s hair triumphantly in her characteristic way, allowing everyone to admire its thickness and shine. The Major tentatively stroked the ponytail, a barely concealed smile of delight playing over his lips. His smile immediately vanished when he heard Helen quietly whimpering, her face hidden by the unruly bobbed hair that was all that remained of her once magnificent long hair.

‘Now, now, Helen,’ the Major said, taking control of the situation. ‘No need for tears. You look enchanting, quite enchanting,’ he said, taking it upon himself to arrange her severed hair a little more flatteringly around her face. He was worried he had overstepped the mark and pushed Helen into something she was not ready for, simply to satisfy his own interests.

= * = * =

‘They are tears of relief, Roger. For so long I wanted to see that all gone,’ she declared, waving a hand dismissively in the direction of her former ponytail, ‘and you have made my dream come true.’

It sounded over the top to Heather and Sara, but Major Owen modestly accepted the praise.

‘Right, now we have got all that soppiness out of the way,’ Sara Dart declared, ‘I’ll finish off your haircut.’

‘I do not want to look like one of your staff or children, Miss Dart,’ Miss Tibbs asserted, sounding more like her usual confident self. ‘No military cuts or pudding bowls!’ she ordered.

The disappointment showing on the Major’s face was unmistakable, suggesting either of those options would have made his day. His mind was working overtime as if formulating a justifiable reason for suggesting one of those styles to Miss Tibbs. Fortunately, Sara Dart was ahead of him.

‘Miss Richards and I discussed some ideas earlier, so I know what is best for you,’ Sara declared aggressively, ‘so just let me get on with it.’

Helen bristled momentarily, unused to people speaking to her in that way. However, not having any other suggestions, she chose to remain quiet and allow Sara to continue with her plan.

The barber neatly sectioned off the hair on Helen’s crown, combing down the remainder. Taking her hairclippers, she reduced the back and sides to a fine pelt. Not shaved to the skin as with the academy regulation haircuts, but far shorter than Miss Tibbs would have chosen voluntarily.

Letting down the top section, Sara sprayed it with water and meticulously created longish layers through the top. The longer swept back neatly and finished in an abrupt step that was high above the hairline at the back of her head. Sara graduated the sides to create shorter layers that flowed in an arc above her ears. Disconnected from clippered hair below, the shorter layers artfully merged into the step at the back.

Sara was meticulous in her final adjustments. She precisely shaved the hairline and ensured the longer hair through the crown swept back gracefully from Helen’s forehead. The separation of the top layers from the clippered areas on the sides looked dramatic, as did the abrupt ledge high up the back of Helen’s head.

Sara put down her tools and stood back, holding a hand mirror so that Helen could observe her transformed appearance from every angle.

The Major punctuated the silence. ‘Oh, I say …’ he interjected, breathing excitedly.

Heather Richards imagined that his shortness of breath was a prelude to his expectation of a much closer inspection of Helen’s hair after dinner that evening.

‘Quite so,’ Miss Tibbs giggled, acknowledging her colleague’s assessment. It was a phrase she used frequently but uttered with a great deal more emotion than the Major had heard before.

‘It is known as a wedge hairstyle, Miss Tibbs,’ the headmistress explained. ‘Very short, very neat but with a desirable touch of softness that Miss Dart and I thought was suited to your personality.’

‘Very desirable,’ the Major said without thinking, blushing as Helen Tibbs rewarded him with a coy smile.

‘You have done well, Miss Dart. My hair is most acceptable,’ Miss Tibbs grinned, shivering with pleasure as she ran a hand along her bare neck.

‘Glad you like it, Helen,’ Sara said brightly. Lowering her voice, grinning broadly, she turned towards the Major so only he could hear her. ‘And seems you like it too, Rog,’ she giggled, looking down at the bulge in his crotch.

= * = * =

‘Well, Miss Richards, the Major and I must now take our leave of you. Thank you for your hospitality and cooperation today,’ Miss Tibbs said appreciatively. ‘And, Miss Dart, thank you for my delightful new hairstyle.’

‘No problem at all, Miss Tibbs,’ Heather Richards responded. ‘We appreciate you helping The Bourne Academy improve our standards. We will, of course, deal with those significant failings you have identified as soon as we receive your report.’

‘Significant failings, Miss Richards?’ Helen Tibbs questioned, sounding overly pompous. ‘The Major and I had minor observations. But we found nothing significant, did we, er … Roger?’ she added with a conspirational wink.

‘Quite so,’ Roger Owen chuckled, winking back. ‘You run a very tight ship, Miss Richards. The loyalty of your tutors and the discipline of your students are a credit to you.’

‘Now, we really must go, as we have a great deal to do this evening,’ Miss Tibbs explained.

The two inspectors quickly gathered their things together, grabbed each other’s hand, and marched through the door side by side.

Sara giggled at their eagerness to leave together. ‘So sorry to have kept you,’ she murmured sarcastically. ‘It might have been very tricky, boss, with all the significant failings discovered by the inspectors. But we got away with it.’

Heather Richards sighed. ‘Piece of cake,’ she chuckled.

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