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When I was a Boy…. Nostalgia as Propaganda?

June 9, 2014
50 L36

Primary School – That’s me in the middle of the back row.

I have a golfing buddy who knows a lot about life. And so he should, because he’s in his eighties – a big personality, always coming up with outrageous stuff and seemingly impervious to the banter that comes his way.

A while ago I found myself on his email list, which means that I get a regular stream of golfing jokes, some of them so sexist that even the Chief Executive of the England Football Association (who nearly lost his job recently when some boys-only remarks ended up on the desk-top of a female member of staff) would have fallen on his sword if he’d been caught sending them. If not about golf, John’s themes tend to be on the UKIP end of the political spectrum, usually along the lines of “fings ain’t wot they used to be”.

As with so much that dings around the internet, it’s impossible to tell who the originator might be, and John tends to be the conduit rather than the author.

Some of the stuff has such a strong political agenda that I wouldn’t put it past Nigel Farage, the high priest of the UK Independence Party, to have set up a little team in a shed somewhere near a pub to inseminate the net with stuff like the email that follows. John clearly agrees with the sentiments. And as someone who was at school in London during the Second World War, he can regale you with stories of “how it was”.

SCHOOL-1945 vs. 2013

Scenario :

Johnny and Mark get into a fight after school.

1945 – Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends.


2013 – Police called, and they arrest Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it. Both children go to anger management programmes for 3 months. School governors hold meeting to implement bullying prevention programmes.

Scenario :

Robbie won’t be still in class, disrupts other students.

1945 – Robbie sent to the office and given six of the best by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2013 – Robbie given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADHD – result deemed to be positive. Robbie’s parents get fortnightly disability payments and school gets extra funding from government because Robbie has a disability.

Scenario :

Billy breaks a window in his neighbour’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1945 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2013 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care; joins a gang; ends up in jail.

Scenario :

Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1945 – Mark gets glass of water from Principal to take aspirin with. Passes exams, becomes a solicitor.

2013- Police called, car searched for drugs and weapons. Mark expelled from school for drug taking. Ends up as a drop out.

Scenario :

Johnny takes apart leftover fireworks from Cracker night, puts them in a paint tin & blows up a wasp’s nest.

1945 – Wasps die.

2013- Police & Anti-Terrorism Squad called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, investigate parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated. Johnny’s Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly in an airplane again.

Scenario :

Johnny falls over while running during morning break and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. She hugs him to comfort him.

1945 – In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing footie. No damage done.

2013 – Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy and ends up gay.

This should be sent to every e-mail address you know to remind us how stupid we have become!

I guess we are all responsible for the present situation as we have selected the idiots that pass these rules in Parliament. Try and stop the rot by thinking and using your vote!!!!

And of course there’s only one party that promises to stop the rot! As to which one, if you’re not familiar with British politics, see this post for an explanation.

As with all missives of this kind there’s enough of an element of truth to draw a wry smile whatever your political persuasion.

The scenario that made me laugh was the one about the wasps. That’s because when I was about ten my older brother and I actually carried out the very same stunt. Being a couple of years older than me, and a bit of a chemistry nut, he was the cell leader.

He’d been experimenting with explosives by mixing certain household chemicals and igniting them in very small quantities. When we discovered the wasp nest in the rockery at the bottom of our garden, he decided that it was time for the big one.

We were lucky enough to have a swimming pool, and there we found a very convenient container for the bomb we would build. So we took one of the aluminium tubes that fitted together to make a brush that cleaned the bottom of the pool. Into the pipe we packed an ample supply of the required chemicals, sealed the ends with sellotape and set a fuse that ran to some bushes a few yards away.

We planted our pipe bomb at the bottom of the rockery where the wasps were buzzing around most angrily, retired to the bushes and lit the blue touch paper. 20 seconds later, BANG! All that remained of the wasp nest and at least three feet of rockery was a smoking hole. Of the pipe, nothing.

Fifty yards away, my mother was taking tea with our family doctor – an old friend – by the swimming pool. After the explosion took place, when the two ladies got off the floor they discovered that a piece of aluminium shrapnel had whizzed over their heads and embedded itself in the wooden wall of the changing room. Other bits of metal were subsequently to be found lying around a wide radius of the blast. Thankfully no humans, animals (except the wasps) or buildings (apart from the changing room) were damaged. My brother and I were only a few yards away, so I guess we were lucky.

And no, we didn’t get six of the best. My parents didn’t believe in corporal punishment, but we did get a very stern telling off. Nor did the police arrive, alerted by worried neighbours. Clearly the folks next door were used to loud explosions in the Royston household, though they were mainly vocal. I had a pretty sharp temper in those days.

Today? Well my neighbourhood doesn’t have a reputation as a hotbed of terrorist activity, so the chances are that the most extreme response would have been a quizzical post about the bang on Facebook from our delightful next-doors.

As for the rest of the scenarios, yes, they hit the mark. We do live in a different age – litigious, risk-averse and fearful – in which well-meaning regulation has piled on regulation. Less freedom of action remains in the hands of parents and more in those of the state.

But let’s not forget that in 1945 there was no National Health Service, no vaccines for polio, tuberculosis was rampant, unexploded ordnance scattered around the bombsites, food rationing, thousands of kids without fathers and a far higher degree of eccentricity, not to say sadism, among teachers than you would find today. Speak to Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who wrote The Wall, about the last point. “Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone….”

So it’s easy to argue that life was simpler in “those days”. But better? I like to think that my school years – in the fifties and sixties – coincided with a happy medium. The legacy of the war had faded, but the regulators had not yet embraced education in their iron grip.

But maybe I’m guilty of selective memory. On which subject, I can think of no better way of ending this piece than to refer you to the Four Yorkshiremen sketch by John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, in which the participants discuss their earlier days. Pure luxury.

From → Education, Social, UK

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