Begging the question

"Well," I said, "I did apply to become a teacher, but that was more than 20 or 30 years ago." "True," he said, "but we have a big backlog" '
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I was sitting in the place where I work the other day when a man came in.

I was sitting in the place where I work the other day when a man came in.

"Can I ask you a couple of questions?" he said.

I find that, in these circumstances, it is always best to be friendly, at least to begin with. You never know who these people are. It might be a trespasser, but it might be a mystery millionaire who was going to leave me all his money after I had been nice to him. It might be the editor. It might be the proprietor. It might be a bailiff...

"Well, that's one," I said.

"One what?" he said.

"One question," I said. "You said: 'Can I ask you a couple of questions?' And you have already asked that one. And now you have said: 'One what?' So that's your couple of questions."

I was trying to be jovial, but he obviously thought I was just being a smart-arse, as his expression tightened slightly and he brought a clipboard into view.

"Oh, that kind of question," I said. "You're doing a questionnaire. Fire away." I like doing questionnaires. Unlike in other quizzes, the questions are all about me.

"May I just ask you how much you like children?"

"I have two or three of my own," I said. "I quite like them, I suppose."

"Do you like being in the company of children?"

"Compared with what?"

"Compared with being in the company of adults."

I thought about that one.

"I like being in the company of children compared with being in the company of mass murderers, politicians, therapists, TV executives or disc jockeys. Otherwise, I don't prefer the company of children."

"Have you ever gone to prison for being friendly with children?"

"Have I what?"

The man looked up from his clipboard. "Oh, perhaps I should have explained. I'm from the Criminal Records Bureau. We're doing a check-up on people's criminal records. You may have read about it."

I said: "They're checking the criminal records of journalists now?"

"No," he said. "Of teachers. You have applied to become a teacher."

"No, I haven't."

"Yes, you have. At St Saviour's C of E school."

A far-off bell tinkled. He was right.

"Well," I said, "I did, but that was more than 20 or 30 years ago."

"I know," said the man, "but we have got a big backlog. It's taking us a long time to catch up. You may have read about it. Do you still want to be a teacher?"

I thought about it.

"No," I said.

"But you did then. And the urge to be a teacher never entirely goes away. So I must check you still."

"I never had the urge to be a teacher," I said. "All I had was the urge to write a best-selling novel like Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, which was based on a year's teaching. I had similar thoughts and applied to be a teacher. I then found I would have to meet children face to face, so I gave up the idea."

That didn't seem to fit any of the questions on his clipboard, and he changed tack.

"Do you have any criminal record at all?"

"Not in this country."

"Ah! So in which country do you have a record?"


"But you said..."

"Look," I said, "why should I answer any of your questions? I don't know who you are."

"I'm from the Criminal Records..."

"I know that," I said, "but how do I know that you haven't got a criminal record? How do I know that you aren't sexually attracted to people in offices like me and have a long list of offences against them?"

"I was checked," he said. "Everyone in the Criminal Records Bureau is checked before joining. I was checked by Mr Rogers..."

"And who checked Mr Rogers?" I said. "How do I know that Mr Rogers isn't part of a secret network of people sexually attracted to lone men in offices, and you're not all in it together? You see, checking itself isn't enough. You never really know who's safe. Now get out."

"I haven't finished yet..."

"No, but I have."

I got up and went to usher him out, which turned into a slight pushing-match, and I am afraid, in my efforts to get him out, he slipped and hurt himself a bit. Quite a bit, I suppose. There is now a charge of actual bodily harm pending against me, and if I am found guilty, I shall then have a criminal record and will never be allowed to teach.

However, I am sure that a court will never convict me if I can convince them that I was the undoubted victim of an assault by the Criminal Records Bureau.

What do you think?