I won't mourn the demise of the grinning flogger

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The Independent Online
"GENIAL MONK is called in to halt school's decline", I read recently. The headline was for an article about the new headmaster of Downside, Dom Anthony Sutch, who reckons he is going to halt the hopeless decline in numbers at that school. There is a picture of the monk grinning cheerfully at the reader. I don't believe it for a minute. The Benedictine headmaster of my school, Worth, in Sussex, always grinned chirpily at parents, but as soon as he got their sons on his own he'd beat the living daylights out of them. I don't know if they still have beating at these schools but I do know that I have yet to meet anyone from my old school or from any other school run by monks who did not hate every minute of it. Except one chap, that is, and he was a creep. In the same article it says that my old school, Worth, which has also slumped in popularity, has "thrown open its doors to non-Catholic pupils". This amused me greatly, as the image of hundreds of pupils banging on the closed doors begging to get into this loathsome institution and the monks reluctantly having to throw the doors open is too daft for words.

I opened the obituaries page in the Telegraph a few months ago and saw my old headmaster, the Grinning Beater, was top of the list. But when I read it I felt rather sorry for him, as he'd clearly been shoved out by his family at a very early age (perhaps he was a loathsome child as well). He then spent most of his life in lousy Benedictine schools beating boys and then he'd gone to a Peruvian mission and become a follower of liberation theology, which is a good thing and obviously involved a total change in his character. But then he was recalled by his bishop to become Abbot of Worth and as school attendances fell he had to close the mission in Peru, the place where he'd finally found himself. Then he died.

Anyway, it fills me with joy to see these schools decline. My own schooldays convince me that I would not send a child of mine to be educated by a grinning monk any more than I would send him to a mullah in Iran.

WHILE I am on the subject of flogging headmasters, all I know about Thomas Arnold, the reforming headmaster of Rugby School, was that he brutally flogged Tom Brown on BBC1 at about 6.15 one Sunday night in about 1975, just before I was due to go to back to Worth, which I didn't find particularly amusing at the time. This week we learnt that half the boys of Rugby boycotted a service commemorating the 200th anniversary of Thomas Arnold's birth in protest at the appointment of Louise Woolcock as head girl. Miss Woolcock says: "To those boys who are against me, start living in the real world", and she's right of course, because many of these boys will soon be working under women bosses. The Telegraph suggests that "Mrs Thatcher would have found relations with some of her cabinet ministers easier had they been subjected to a head girl during their formative years at school", so it's a good thing for somewhere like Rugby, where many pupils may indeed end up as Tory cabinet ministers, to have a head girl. Perhaps in further memory of Dr Arnold, Miss Woolcock would be allowed to take the boys who are protesting against her and flog them brutally. This, too, would surely be valuable experience for when they become Tory MPs.

MY FRIEND Kate St John is not only a brilliant musician and beautiful person, but also an excellent White Goods Adviser. When I needed a new washing machine she told me to look no further than Mr Dixon of John Lewis so off I went to John Lewis white goods department where I announced I wanted to see Mr Dixon and only Mr Dixon would do. When he appeared he was utterly charming. His enthusiasm for white goods knew no bounds and what was surprising was to find so much white goods enthusiasm in one so young. He can't have been more than 30. Young, black and proud to sell white goods. That's Mr Dixon. Anyway, I bought a washer-dryer from him.

Three months later a friend asked me where he could get a cooker. "Mr Dixon of John Lewis," I replied without hesitation. He went, but Mr Dixon was on tea break, so someone else served him. Then last week I went with two friends to get them a fridge-freezer. "We want to see Mr Dixon," I announced. "Mr Dixon's on tea break," came the reply. So we dealt with Mr Wilson. Half an hour later my friends still hadn't made up their minds and Mr Dixon still wasn't back from tea break.

I am worried about him, I think he has been murdered. For the last year there has obviously been a constant stream of people who come to John Lewis and ask for Mr Dixon, such is his legendary reputation, and other members of the white goods sales team have obviously become so enraged by jealousy that they have bashed him over the head with a Baby Belling, chopped him up with a Moulinex electric carving knife and put him him in an Electrolux low-energy fridge-freezer in the storeroom. They can't tell the desperate hordes who ask for him that he has left, or we will ask where he's gone, so we can go and buy our white goods there, so they tell us he's on permanent tea break. If anyone reading this goes to John Lewis this week, could you ask for Mr Dixon? And if you're told he's on tea break could you call the police? I'd do it myself but I'm afraid they'd think me a crank.

I HAVE just read Nick Hornby's book High Fidelity, and it is brilliant. It is a very funny and concise explanation of why we men are as we are. If you are male, you should read it and then make your partner read it, so they will no longer hate you but pity you instead.