How Master Howard cracked the whip at school

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
HOW very pleasant to see my old friend and quaffing partner Mr Michael Howard so firmly in his stride at one of the most enjoyable Conservative Party Conferences in years.

Michael and I go back yonks. We were both educated at Basters Academy for Boys ("Baste up the Basters, Baste Up, Baste Up and Baste the Ball!"), and we are both proud to call ourselves old Basterds. Stranger still, I once taught him. Shortly after leaving Oxford, mustard-keen to make my way in the world of letters, I decided to put in a little time as an English teacher. I knew myself to be fondly remembered at Basters (I had won the General Courtesy and Deportment Cup three years in a row), so returning there for a year seemed the next logical step.

Needless to say, I entered my first class with no little trepidation. Popular school crazes then included the hurling of ink-pellets and that hideous alliance of the catapult and the ball of chewing gum. The very prospect filled me with dread. Nevertheless, with customary courage, I put my best foot forward and marched with into form IVb. I was confronted by a young lad with prominent spectacles. "Please Sir," he said, "may I suggest an immediate crackdown on first-time troublemakers, Sir? It's in the long-term interests of the school, you know!"

I immediately felt at home. You will no doubt have already guessed the identity of this helpful young lad. It was, indeed, the 14-year-old Michael Howard, impeccably turned out with neat cuffs and well-pressed blazer, already sporting the winning smile that was to make him so many friends in the years to come. While the other boys continued to fidget, young Howard set about informing me of his 29-point plan for tighter discipline.

"Point One: An across-the-board ban on bubble-gum and chewing-gum," he advised, "with severe punishments for those who continue to suck, chew and blow after the ban has come into effect.

"Point Two: A complete clampdown on single mothers, with a firm system of deterrents to make them see sense."

At this point, I felt I should interrupt the lad. "While I would go with you most of the way, Howard," I remonstrated, looking around at the 24 boys in front of me, "I feel bound to point out that there are no single mothers in this school. In fact there are, not to put too fine a point on it, only boys."

"And that's the way we want to keep it, Sir!" replied Howard. "Unwanted pregnancy among young schoolboys is a very real threat. Even as we speak, one of them might be turning into a single mother. And only the strictest clampdown will keep this peril in check, Sir!"

Rarely have I heard a lad of such tender years argue a case so convincingly. Before the end of that lesson, I had instituted a stringent set of rules to prevent the boys in my class making either themselves or each other pregnant.

There would also be a system of compulsory pregnancy tests presided over by Matron every other week, and any boy found pregnant would henceforth be banned from tuck for three days, rising to a full week for a second offence.

For Points Number 3 to 29, I asked Howard if he would be good enough to remain in class during break. "But may I just point out, Sir, that break is the one time when the evil-doers in our society are able to run amok. And let me tell you this, I have devised a system of playground security cameras that is second to none, alerting the proper authorities to likely miscreants so that they may be properly punished even before they have committed the potential offence."

You can imagine my gratitude. Before the end of my first week as a teacher, the playground had been provided with one of the most advanced systems of closed-circuit cameras in Europe, and the school slide had been expertly fitted with a fast-flowing electric current to prevent its misuse by the under-aged. Meanwhile, my classroom had been equipped with a magnificent set of new cells for persistent offenders, and all boys' pockets had been fitted with mouse-traps to help crack down on wilful indecency. I am happy to report that Michael left Basters with honours galore, and I like to think that, under his influence, Basters Academy for Boys became the beacon by which Britain will be guided as we embark on our forward march to the 21st century.

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