This was originally a music website post in 2004 when people were discussing politics, and guilt and innocence.
I went to a British boys grammar school. We wore grey suits with short trousers, ties, and brown and blue schoolboy caps. The headmaster wore a black academic gown and was a menacing presence. We called him Eric. He taught German, an ability he was said to have improved whilst interrogating German prisoners of war as an intelligence officer. Whatever the truth behind this schoolboy myth, he scared the shit out of us, and we would do anything to avoid interrogation by him. In the mornings we had assembly with hymns, and these were often of an aggressively militaristic bent, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross. Lift high his royal banner, it shall not suffer loss!” and “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, ever at the fore …” etc, though on wild, wet and windy days we would often sing “For those in peril on the sea” in honour of Britain’s fishing trawlers braving the North Atlantic waves in search of our cod and haddock, and our intrepid submariners cruising the darkest depths of the ocean armed to the teeth with nuclear missiles. Anyway, I have memories of Eric’s steely glare moving slowly over the trembling ranks of boys, and then he would pause and hiss, “Some boys, by their actions, are spoiling it for all the others!” We’d breathe in sharply. This meant mass detentions or other punishments. What horrors had “some boys” committed?
It would turn out to be behaviour of a terrible nature. Perhaps riding bicycles two abreast on the road, or worse riding bicycles without the regulation school cap on, or even … this was a very serious, expulsion level case … being cheeky to a bus conductor and using an obscene word on a public bus WHILST wearing school uniform. We didn’t dare think what the “obscene” word might have been. Probably not the one that begins with F- as such an enormity would mean punishment beyond our worst nightmares.
In this last most serious case, of using bad language on a bus, his glare moved over the rows. The offending boy was told that he should own up by reporting to the headmaster’s study immediately after assembly. We knew this meant the cane (for yes, they used to beat children in Britain in those days). The black-gowned senior teachers seated behind the headmaster started scanning the rows too. Some of the younger and more popular (and gownless) teachers on the stage shifted uncomfortably in their seats, as if in sympathy, or nervous anticipation of consequences they were too squeamish to witness. Paddy, the nasty, brutish and short Games teacher, further back, stood up to add his glare, but that was merely red-eyed, twitchy and aggressive, so nowhere near as terrifying as Eric’s icy gaze.
I remember trembling before that headmaster’s glare (a memory that came back to me years later reading of Frodo’s feelings about the Eye of Sauron). Would he think that I was the one who had been cheeky to the conductor on a public bus? My face flushed scarlet. Would he notice the rush of blood? Would the eye swivel back and stop on me? That dreadful fear of being thought guilty is a weird one.
Especially as I only ever travelled to school by bicycle so knew (and could prove) that I was totally innocent.
The moral of the story is simple. If you cast an accusation, the recipient will look guilty.