John Walsh: Tales of the City

'Who's to say that rethinking history along patriotic lines mightn't be a boon to pupils?'
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Vladimir Putin has been complaining that the depiction of his country's Soviet past in school textbooks is too negative. He told a meeting of teachers that they were "confused" about history, and should be more patriotic. It seems likely that just one "approved" textbook will be used in Russian teaching henceforth, accentuating the positive in Russia's past. This may seem a ghastly Stalinist development. But who's to say that rethinking history along sanitised and patriotic lines mightn't be a boon to pupils everywhere? Imagine the exam questions...

Russian history

Joseph Stalin's main achievement as Russian premier was:

a) Services to the worldwide moustache-waxing industry?

b) Triumphantly winning the Second World War with losses of only 26,600,000 Russians, and thus keeping the world safe for democracy?

c) Saving the peasantry from obesity by removing bread from their diet. And vegetables. And meat.

When foreigners refer to "the Gulag Archipelago", they're talking about a:

a) Ritzy four-star hotel near Minsk, with en-suite bathrooms, irrigation spa and complimentary peanuts?

b) New novel by Robert Ludlum, sequel to The Morag Peninsula?

c) Hilarious popular Gypsy dance troupe from the Urals?

Explain the significance of Rasputin. Was he a:

a) Saintly village priest who befriended Alexandra Romanov and cured her son of haemophilia without thought of reward?

b) Straggle-haired magician who once brought dead people back to life but ended his career performing tricks for children's parties?

c) Peasant musician who had a brief novelty hit with the song "I'm So In Love with My Country, I'd Like to Shag the Tsarina"?

French history

Explain the function of the guillotine. Was it used:

a) To cut up paper to use as documents on which a new constitution could be written?

b) To chop up vegetables to make soup for inmates of the Bastille?

c) To cut up cloth to make trousers for the sans-culottes?

During the Second World War, what was the function of the Vichy regime?

a) To provide fizzy mineral water for German high command dinners?

b) To pretend to do the bidding of the Nazis, while secretly despising them as uncultured cochons?

c) To sing "La Marseillaise" very quietly, in cellars behind bolted doors?

English history

What happened to Mary, Queen of Scots?

a) She was released from prison by her fond cousin, Elizabeth I, who gave her an apartment in Windsor Castle, a pension and a retinue of servants?

b) She escaped from prison, dyed her hair and spent her last years running the Copper Kettle tea shop in Leith?

c) She was released from prison and married Shakespeare, inspiring him to write The Merry Wives of Holyrood?

For what is Richard III best known?

a) Setting up an early emergency-succour service for children in danger from members of their family?

b) Passing the Spinal Deformity Non-Humour Bill, to impose taxes on anyone caught laughing at hunchbacks?

c) Coining the phrase "You're Never Fully Dressed 'til You Wear a Smile"?

What exactly was the point of Britain helping to invade Iraq?

a) Because of Saddam Hussein's well-known hatred of British people and his desire to see them all wiped out?

b) Because we wanted to test the efficacy of London's current strategies against suicide bombers?

c) Because the Prime Minister genuinely thought it was the right thing to do, OK?


I like the sound of Kevin Rudd, the Australian Leader of the Opposition, and the man widely tipped to wrest power from John Howard at the autumn general election. The only obstacle in Mr Rudd's flight path is that he's accused of being upbraided in a New York strip club for inappropriately fingering the girls. It's not this that I find admirable, but Mr Rudd's defence. "I have absolutely no recollection of that," he told a TV interviewer. "We'd had too much to drink." An admirably clear response. (Strewth, mate, what d'you expect? I was plastered.) I must remember this form of words next time I'm hauled before the beak for dancing naked across Piccadilly with an orange bollard on my head.

Asked if his behaviour seemed at odds with his role as a Christian family man, he went on: "I'm on the record as saying I'm as flawed and failed as the rest of them." On the record? So if you're an Aussie politician confronted by a moral transgression that would cripple your career in any country, all you need say is: "Blimey, cobber, as I've said before, I'm only human." Can you imagine our Opposition leader, David Cameron, acting like this? "I have no recollection of the incident to which my honourable friend refers because I was totally monged out of my head at the time..."