Farty's Fortunes

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Arms and the Man

Badger was the best teacher I ever had. That wasn't his real name, although famously at one parent's night a mum addressed him in all seriousness as "Mr Badger"; he took it as a compliment. His chosen subject was Latin, but I have the feeling he could have taught Modern Dance, Quantum Chromodynamics or The Political History of Cheesemaking in 18th Century France with equal aplomb, his head bobbing back and forth as he held sway over his court, gesticulating with a piece of chalk to emphasise his words.

He was always warm, kind and friendly, even when he was giving you the slipper for forgetting your homework. Oh, there was no malice in it, just a hearty laugh as he bent you over a desk and walloped your backside in front of the whole class and sent you wincing back to your seat. Some older boys had actually presented him with an old training shoe to keep the young 'uns in line. He was very proud of it and never, ever used a cane or belt like the other masters - that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, it was rare for any boy to forget his homework twice.

Considering that Latin is a "dead" language, Badger really breathed life into it. Whether he was rolling his R's as he pro-nounced his way through Virgil's Aeneid, or taking us on a hurl (field trip) to the visitor centre at Hadrian's Wall to see Real Roman Ruins, his enthusiasm was as infectious as Swine Flu. Once, he had an operation on his leg to remove a varicose vein. It didn't even slow him down; with a week he was out on the rugby pitch refereeing a match, yelling encouragement to his young charges.

Badger never got married; he treated the school as his mistress and the boys as his family. He'd even take groups of us to the detached house he shared with his sisters in a leafy Embra suburb to expose us to a bit of "culture". I still remember putting on a giant pair of headphones to listen to the full-length orchestrated version of Also Sprach Zarathustra; I wouldn't be surprised if he spent the evenings reading Nietzsche in the original German just because he could.

But he was haunted by demons, too. And one warm, sunny afternoon, with dust motes drifting in the sunlight streaming through the window, when the lesson was officially over but there were a few minutes still to go before the bell released us into the world of conkers and football, he shared his private hell with us.

During the Second World War, when George was still a young man, he served in British Military Intelligence. Although most of his duties were still classified decades later, he did feel it was acceptable to tell us about his post-war rôle in debriefing a German doctor who had worked in Auschwitz. This man had had the unenviable task of checking the health of concentration camp detainees and deciding which of them were fit to be sent to the gas chambers.

George was, of course, horrified. "But how," he asked, "how could you, a doctor, knowingly send your fellow human beings to their deaths?"

"Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," replied the doctor. "No, no, these weren't human beings, they were animals. They were Jews, you see."

It seems that the only way this man, this physician, could continue to function was by deluding himself that the patients he treated were not members of the same species as himself.

And George got a glimpse inside this man's head. And he thought about that conversation every day. It coloured his thinking, so that he never forgot that whatever someone looks like on the outside, and no matter what crazy thoughts go in inside their skull, there really is just the one human race. We all deserve to be treated the same.

And that is the one lesson I'll always remember. Thanks, George.


Scotsman said...

What the ? Farty does serious, the BBC needs to be informed immediately.

Nice story.

Laurie said...

I seem to remember a couple of other extremely good and very, very serious parps. Thank you (And Mr. Badger) for not letting people forget how easy it is for humans to justify the mistreatment of other animals - including humans.

I played the introduction to Also Sprach Zarathustra at rehearsal just tonight!

#Debi said...

I have no words...what a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

Mr Farty said...

Scotsman - Doing serious is BLOODY HARD, so thanks!

Laurie - He was a better man than I'll ever be, that's for sure.

#Debi - I did try to post this one before, but I got too upset to complete it properly. This time I came at it sideways on. Still very hard, but I think it worked better this time. Thanks again.

apositivepessimist said...

I could never roll me bloody R’s. Thankfully I could roll me joints.

Oooh Farts you gone and got all deep on me…Oh that sounds pretty bloody naughty and whatnot.

But seriously, good read.

Mr Farty said...

Apos - Sadly, the only joints on my mind these days are the ones that creak when I stand up. Thanks for the comment.

Daphne said...

Brilliant post - I really enjoyed it (and as a half-Jewish animal I'm surprised I can even read).

Mr Farty said...

Daphne - Thank you kindly! As a Scotchman I'm surprised I can write.