Saturday, February 10, 2007

School's Out!

‘Oh, to be a schoolboy in England,

Now that winter’s there.’

My apologies to Mr. Browning but how I would have loved being a schoolboy in England today.

‘Look, chaps, it’s snowed. Whoopee, no school for us today.’ And Bunter could go off to the tuck-shop and fill himself up with cream buns whilst Quelchie, the maths master fumed with rage at being denied an opportunity to terrorise us. Head Boy, Harry Wharton, would, of course, be out there shovelling the snow away from the playground.

Well, I seem to recall that when I was at school in England, it snowed every year, sometimes quite heavily, but not for one millisecond did our tormentors allow us a brief respite from our arduous labours.

Playtimes were OK, for we had running snowball fights on the playing fields and I suppose that such an activity would nowadays be banned under the Health and Safety Act. That would be a loss as far as I was concerned. But school ( the academic bit) being closed, I would not have regretted at all.

I can only think that the reason school stayed open during this inclement weather was that the authorities had not been alerted by headlines in the media: ‘Blizzard sweeping the country from the West,’ ‘Frozen points delay commuters,’ ‘Worst snow since records began,’ etc. and our schoolmasters, oblivious of such impending doom, would insist that we went to class as usual.

And then again, they had other things on their mind at the time. There was a war on. Now, fortunately, the Luftwaffe had elected to run the Battle of Britain largely during the school holidays, enabling those of us living in the London region to have a jolly good ringside seat. But during the later winter Blitz, one would have thought that the raids might have persuaded the powers that be to give us a few days off. But no, bombing raids were insufficient excuse for closing a school, it seems as, later on, were Flying Bombs and V2 Rockets. Snow never even got an honourable mention, even the day boys being expected to show up on time whatever the weather.

Once in a while there would be an empty desk or two in class where a fellow pupil had ‘bought it,’ as the casual phrase of the time had it.

So it is good to know that the schools of Britain are doing their level best to keep their charges from the dreadful menace of a slippery playground.

It’s the sort of spirit that, in a previous Elizabethan era, inspired the likes of Raleigh, Drake and Hawkins.

But I bet they went to school when it snowed.

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