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Wednesday March 19th  2014  Tim Candler

 

     The railway line from Charring Cross to a seaside town called Hastings, passes somewhere near where a Saxon Paramount Chief by the name of Harold Sigurdsson was defeated by a Viking Warlord from across the English Channel, called William the Bastard.  And if anyone labors under the illusion that this was either a good thing or a bad thing to happen, they need to be made aware that the Saxon clans who stole land from the British Celts, were way too happy, independent  and chaotic a bunch, to have done anything much more to the world than quarrel amongst themselves while perfecting the craft of brewing alcohol from just about anything that contains a short chain carbohydrate. Which incidentally includes the root, the stem, the leaf and the flower of Dandelion. And then there are some of us who reckon that had the Celts managed to keep control of the British Isles we'd then have poetry Eisteddfods and dancing and probably honey blending contests to express some sort of obscure shared purpose, instead of the mechanical awfulness of the last dozen or so Olympic games, where the only true joy is to be had when an Andaman Islander wins at something like down hill skating, or a weight lifter so damages his spine he'll never walk again.  And you can call me unfeeling, if you wish to. But when you are something like eleven, you kind of have to chose sides, and because I was more like a brick wall than a thinking person I was deeply depressed when Harold got an arrow in the eye and died.  I took it very personally, and for a long time I might have looked at a word like 'detournement' and reckoned it to be yet one more French Plot.  Either way, if you have to blame a single person for the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution, the Imperial Unit, Rugby, Soccer and Croquet,  blame the megalomania and organizing skill of a Viking who preferred to call himself William of Normandy, King of the English.

      And if you happen to be some thing like eleven and your wandering around Charring Cross Railway station in 1960 something, looking for a sign of your school train, you might not think to also blame William The Bastard for the English Boarding School system. Which was inspired by how the Spartans thought to educate their own dear children. Basically, you kick them out of the house when they are about six or seven, leave them to fend for themselves and if they reach the age of around eighteen they're ready to die in the shade fighting foreigners at somewhere like Thermopylae. Which I guess is kind of the wet dream for a twenty first century Corporate executive when he's thinking about which politician to buy. Anyway, in 1960 something, it wasn't actually that hard to spot a gathering of boarding school scholars in Charring Cross station, because they're wearing their school caps and their school uniforms, they are surrounded by their mothers and fathers and the person in charge is usually the most junior school master from the boarding school, who has been assigned the unpopular role of chaperoning the school train. He's the one wearing his sports jacket, with patches on the elbow, he's carrying  a clip board and trying to be bushy tailed around the men and women who pay his paltry wages.  Worth noting too, that in 1960 something, if you happened to be a boarding school boy some distance into his career, you quickly discovered that the school master who taught French was either the most junior school master, or some reluctant draftee from the Latin department whose explanation of the French language primarily consisted of explaining why Dunkirk was a victory for the English Speaking People.  But, there's a point about the most junior school master who taught French and chaperoned that particular school train. He was flamboyant, enthusiastic, broad minded, and possessed by a sense of humor that had nothing to do with banana peels. All of them qualities that veteran schoolboys perceived of as weaknesses. Like Belgium, the French Master was a chink in the Maginot Line. (to be continued...)

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