Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

THE ENGLISH, it seems to me, are subject to two moral moods: complacency and panic. Of the two, I prefer - and, in my small way, have contributed to the latter. At least panic encourages us to examine the important questions, such as why we don't beat our children enough.

Foreigners have always thought that the English have a special penchant for beating their children, and attribute it to their reticence over sexual matters. All I can say about foreigners, then, is that they don't know much about English children. The mere sight of a crowd of such children emerging from school these days is enough to turn a St Francis into a Bluebeard.

Needless to say, I was beaten as a child and, like anyone who has had an unpleasant experience, I persuade myself that it was all to the good. Even if this was not the case, I am convinced that the character of my fellow pupils was greatly improved by the beatings they received: they put iron in their soul.

It was Colonel Brewster who administered punishment at the first school I remember. He was the proprietor and headmaster, and his appearance alone was enough to strike terror into the heart of any boy. His face was perfectly round, and he had a bristly, black moustache with which one might have brushed suede shoes. His dark eyes twinkled with malice and hatred of the puerile race. His movements were slow but inexorable, and he walked with a limp, aided by a stick: I still remember the fear inspired by the syncopated rhythm of his gait as he approached the classroom door.

We rather assumed at the time that his limp was the result of a war wound, but now, on reflection, I am not sure that he was really a colonel at all, and it was quite likely he came by his injury another way. …

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