At my local Grammar School which I attended from the age of 11 the Chemistry Master was an excessively
tall and wiry man with a permanently alert expression who was also, oddly enough, called Ted Woodley. To distinguish between
us my school pals christened him "Big Ted" and me "Wee Ted" - an affectionate nickname for me which Mrs. Woodley still uses
(but for wholly different reasons). Big Ted smoked a massive calabash pipe containing, on the one occasion I was able to study
it, a peculiar black tobacco mix.
Those years of Double Chemistry on a Friday morning have left little impression on me other than the
recollection that we seemed to concentrate to an excessive amount on elements with names ending in "-ine" or, as Big Ted used
to call them "The three bonny princesses Fluorine, Chlorine and Bromine and the Queen of all the Halogens Iodine". This last
he would incant with an almost epicurean relish. So frequent were our experiments on these elements that the laboratory, and
even Big Ted himself, reeked with a sharp acrid smoky smell.
Having passed my Chemistry exam with flying colours (luckily there was a question on the production
and reactions of Chlorine) I did not think about Big Ted for the next many years until I received an unexpected postcard from
him. It read:
"Dear Mr. Woodley. Following my genealogical researches I find that we are related and I would like
to invite you to join me and other members of the Lowland Woodley clan in a reception at my house to celebrate our joint heritage.
Refreshments will be provided".
As I lived close by at the time and was intrigued by the invitation I went round at the appointed hour
and was let in by Big Ted looking a little older but equally as alert as in days of yore. On entering his living room I found
about a dozen other people already there - obviously also long-lost Woodley relatives. I also immediately noticed (it was
impossible not to) that in every corner of the room stood a galvanised iron bucket filled with the same black, dry, fibrous
material I had seen in his pipe all those years before.
After a few minutes of desultory small-talk Big Ted mounted a small podium in the centre of the room
"Gentlemen and Ladies, before I bring in the pies I would like to make a few opening remarks of welcome.
We are gathered here today, all members of the Woodley clan, to pay our respects at the temple of the Queen of all the Halogens,
and via the good offices of the sea-weed braziers which I will shortly light (he gestured at the buckets) the cleansing power
of Iodine will purify the Woodley sap and make our blood-line strong (he pronounced it "strang") for all eternity".
He then gave a massive puff on his pipe and a large cloud of purple smoke emerged and drifted upwards.
I have rarely seen a room clear so quickly.