Authors: Gervase Phinn
Also by Gervase Phinn
THE LITTLE VILLAGE SCHOOL SERIES
The Little Village School
THE DALES SERIES
The Other Side of the Dale
Over Hill and Dale
Head Over Heels in the Dales
Up and Down in the Dales
The Heart of the Dales
A Wayne in a Manger
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars
A Load of Old Tripe
Out of the Woods But Not Over the Hill
It Takes One to Know One
The Day Our Teacher Went Batty
Don’t Tell the Teacher
About the author
Gervase Phinn is a teacher, freelance lecturer, author, poet,
school inspector, educational consultant, and visiting
professor of education. For fourteen years he taught in a
range of schools, then acted as General Adviser for
Language Development in Rotherham before moving on to
North Yorkshire, where he spent ten years as a school
inspector – time that has provided much source material for
his books. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an
Honorary Fellow of St John's College, York. He lives with his
family near Doncaster.
Visit Gervase's website,
Trouble at the Little Village School
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Gervase Phinn 2012
The right of Gervase Phinn to be identified as the Author of the
Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Ebook ISBN 978 1 848 94941 6
Hardback ISBN 978 1 444 70559 1
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
For my sister Christine Charlesworth, with
love and tremendous gratitude
‘So, what do you reckon then?’ asked the caretaker as he leaned idly against the doorframe, jangling the bunch of heavy keys in his overall pocket. He was a gangly, gaunt individual with sandy thinning hair, a hard beak of a nose and the staring eyes of a deep-sea fish.
It was the start of the spring term at Barton-in-the-Dale Primary School and he and Mrs Scrimshaw, the school secretary, were in the small office.
‘What do I reckon to what?’ she asked, peering over the top of her unfashionable horn-rimmed spectacles and brushing a stray strand of mouse-coloured hair from her forehead.
The caretaker moved into the room, perched himself on the corner of her desk and leaned closer. The school secretary caught a whiff of floor polish and disinfectant and wrinkled her nose.
‘Come on Mrs Scrimshaw,’ he chuckled. ‘You’ve got eyes in your head. You must have noticed.’
The secretary removed her glasses and placed them carefully on the desk. She looked up at the caretaker. ‘Noticed what?’ she said, feigning ignorance.
‘About our head teacher and the local GP.’
‘I really don’t know to what you are referring, Mr Gribbon,’ she said stiffly. She replaced her glasses and looked down at the letters before her.
‘Oh, come along, Mrs Scrimshaw, don’t play the innocent with me,’ said the caretaker jovially. She winced. ‘It can’t have escaped your notice. It’s as plain as a pikestaff. You know as well as I do that there’s something going on between them.’
‘Mr Gribbon,’ replied the school secretary sharply, ‘what Mrs Devine and Dr Stirling do in their own time is of no concern of mine – nor yours for that matter.’ She shuffled in her chair and picked up a paperknife. ‘As you well know, I’m not a one for gossip and rumour-mongering,’ she added.
‘Well, I reckon there’s something going on,’ he persisted, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. ‘I mean, when he’s in school she can’t take her eyes off of him and it’s clear to me that he’s got the hots for
. Why, when he was in last term doing that session on sex education—’
‘Mr Gribbon,’ interrupted the school secretary, ‘it is none of anyone’s business what Mrs Devine and Dr Stirling might be getting up to.’
‘So, you do think they are getting up to something then?’ He smiled conspiratorially.
‘I didn’t say that,’ she objected.
‘I mean,’ said the caretaker, sucking in his breath and blowing out noisily, ‘he couldn’t stand the sight of her when she started here and now they’re as thick as thieves.’
‘Couldn’t stand the sight of her?’ repeated Mrs Scrimshaw, placing the paperknife back down on the desk. ‘I think that’s something of an exaggeration. I admit that Dr Stirling, like a lot of other people, I might add, didn’t take to Mrs Devine when she took over as head teacher here, and some didn’t entirely see eye to eye with her, but once people in the village got to know her and saw how she started improving everything in the school, they soon changed their minds. And I for one think she’s been like a breath of fresh air since her arrival.’
The school secretary’s observations were accurate. When Elisabeth Devine had been called for interview for the post of head teacher at the small village school, dressed in startling bright red shoes with silver heels and black lacy stockings, she had caused quite a stir. She was so very different from the present incumbent of the post, the formidable Miss Hilda Sowerbutts, she of the pleated tweeds, heavy brogues, bulletproof stockings, sour face and sharp tongue.
With Elisabeth’s appointment the school had undergone a dramatic change. A moribund place under the management of Miss Sowerbutts, it had begun to flourish under Elisabeth’s firm and decisive leadership. The once dark and neglected premises had been transformed into a bright, cheerful and welcoming environment.
Of course, it had not all been plain sailing. Soon after her appointment a bombshell had been dropped on the school. Elisabeth had learned that those on the Education Committee had it in mind to close Barton-in-the-Dale. There had been a concerted and ultimately successful campaign and the future of the school now seemed assured.
‘How long is it since the doctor’s wife fell off of her horse and broke her neck?’ asked the caretaker now.
Mrs Scrimshaw pursed her lips and looked at him reproachfully. ‘You do have such a way of putting things,’ she sighed. ‘Talk about being blunt.’
‘Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?’ continued the caretaker, sliding off the desk and jangling his keys noisily.
‘She had that dreadful accident two years ago,’ Mrs Scrimshaw informed him.
Mr Gribbon sniffed noisily. ‘So the good doctor will be on the lookout for another wife,’ he observed, ‘and Mrs Devine being divorced and all, it seems to me she’ll be in the running. They make a good couple, don’t you think?’
‘I wouldn’t know about that,’ said the school secretary, looking down at the letters on her desk and picking up the paperknife again. The caretaker could sense her irritation. ‘And as for being divorced, that is sheer speculation.’ She sliced open an envelope.
‘Well, there’s no man on the scene,’ observed the caretaker.
‘She could be a widow,’ said the secretary, ‘or separated. Anyway, as I’ve said, Mrs Devine’s private life is no concern of mine – or yours for that matter.’
‘Yes, well, if you ask me—’ began the caretaker.
‘I’m not asking you, Mr Gribbon,’ interrupted Mrs Scrimshaw. ‘Now if you don’t mind, I have a great deal to do this morning and I guess you have jobs to do.’ She tapped the pile of letters on her desk. ‘Being the start of the new term there’s this little lot to deal with, for a start.’
The caretaker made no effort to move. He stretched and scratched his scalp. ‘Well, I suppose I’d better finish off buffing my floors before the hordes arrive,’ he grumbled.
‘Good idea,’ muttered the school secretary, not looking up.
‘Excuse me, Mr Gribbon, I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation but may I have a quick word with Mrs Scrimshaw?’
The caretaker turned as a small boy, about eight or nine years old, came into the office. He was a rosy-faced child with fox-coloured hair and was dressed in curiously old-fashioned clothes – white shirt and tie, long grey shorts, grey knee-length stockings, knitted cardigan, and substantial black shoes. His way of speaking was also curiously old-fashioned. He was like a throwback to the 1950s. The caretaker rolled his eyes and shook his head tetchily.
‘You’re here bright and early, Oscar,’ remarked the school secretary, looking up and peering over her glasses.
‘Oh, I like to get here early on the first day of term, Mrs Scrimshaw,’ the boy replied cheerfully. ‘Actually I’m quite keen to be back. I’ve been rather bored over the holidays.’
‘Well, what is it you want?’ she asked.
‘I was wondering, Mrs Scrimshaw, if you have managed to go through the post this morning?’
‘No, not yet. Why?’
‘Well, there may be a letter there for me,’ the child informed her, approaching the desk.