Another rifle through the khaki issue

Yesterday I suggested that instituting cadet forces in schools was a very good idea if you wanted to diminish people's interest in military teamwork. Inevitably I base this partly on my own experience. I have not touched a gun since I left school, yet the Scottish school to which I was sentenced for five years was mad keen about guns. Not only did it make us march up and down in khaki uniforms every Wednesday holding rifles, but the school entered every shooting competition it could and often did quite well in competition at Bisley. (A place I have still not located on the map or the landscape of England. I once thought I had found it but it turned out to be Wisley.)

I was tested, like all other boys, on the shooting range to see if I had any natural ability. "Don't pull the trigger - squeeze it! Fire only when the gun is still! Pull the butt gently into your shoulder!" I obeyed all these instructions perfectly and still turned in bad scores, so I was turned out. Nobody was happier than I was. I had no desire to be a good shot. (Actually, I think I had already decided that when I was about seven. My friend Philip Riddell had a much older brother Ian who had been given an air gun for his birthday. We begged him to demonstrate it for us. He went out with us into the garden and looked round for a target.

"How about those sparrows in that tree?"

Fine, we said. He fired. All the sparrows scattered except one, which he had fortuitously hit. We went to look at the bird, as it lay on the ground. It was still breathing but obviously fast dying from its bloody wounds. I was horribly shocked by the reality of actually shooting something living, and have never wanted to repeat the experience. I don't know what the opposite of blood lust is, but I have got it.

Of course, the question of military training at a Scottish school was not quite as unclouded as it would be elsewhere. Military training means training to fight an enemy. But who would be the enemy? The Russians? The English? That's not quite as fanciful as it sounds. There was a healthy anti-English feeling abroad at the school which sometimes emerged into the open. I was once set upon with fists by a big Perthshire farmer's son called Sandy Thomson, who, when I asked him why he was beating me up, said: "Because you're English!" After that we became good friends and indeed united as free-thinkers against a boy called Emslie, who came from Plymouth Brethren stock in the Orkneys. (I thus learnt the vital lesson that the best if not only way to conquer the Scots is to divide them against each other.)

The English/Scottish divide was not imaginary. Nearby the school ran an old rutted lane which was still known as Wade's Road, being one of the military roads built by General Wade to speed troops to any Scottish uprising. I have never seen anything similar in England later than a Roman road, yet here next to the school was a symbol of English occupation only 200 years old. And we went to different history lessons depending on our nationality. Those of us aiming at English universities did general European history. The ones aiming for Scottish university entrance went off for their own lessons and came back talking about the doings of Montrose and the Covenanters. Why, it affected even the games at school. All the main sporting activities were compulsory except cricket which was still seen as an English game.

Anyway, by the time I got to Oxford the whole experience of cadets and guns had left me a lifelong non-combatant, so it was probably as well that I just avoided National Service. I asked one of the college servants one day what exactly was the difference between us and the National Service lot.

"They had a much higher standard of practical joke, sir," he said. "I remember one time the dean of the college - a rather unpopular man - woke up to find that his entire staircase from top to bottom was filled with barbed wire and he couldn't get out. Moreover, the barbed wire was laid according to commando principles in such a way that only commandos could remove it. As it happened, there were several ex-commandos in the college who had a grudge against the dean, so we went to look for them, but they just happened to have gone to London for the day. The dean couldn't leave his room until they returned that evening. Oh yes, National Service has its advantages ..."

All right. Military training improves practical jokes. But not a lot else.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker