Saturday, May 19, 2007

Scruton on Vernon, Roger, and Living with Gypsies

In the chapter "How I Discovered my Name," Roger Scruton recalls one moment most young boys can understand:

I was a timid child, who keenly felt the double injury of red hair and a sissy name. The critical moment came aged 10, during the last year at primary school. A large boy called Herman, whose misfortune was also contained in a name, and who, therefore, became the school bully by way of compelling us to respect him, kicked me as I sat down for morning assembly, launching into a diatribe against red hair with every word of which I fully concurred. I gave him to understand that, had it been possible to vote for the abolition of red hair, I would have been first to raise my hand. To my dismay, however, Herman was not satisfied with this general apology for my condition, and indicated that I must meet him in the playground during break, so that my head could be bashed in and the problem of red hair solved for good and all.

"There's no helping it," said my friend Brian (the only one in the playground who was more timid than I). "He's after you. If not today then tomorrow. Best to get it over with." News of the impending fight spread rapidly through the school and at the appointed hour the spectators gathered into a ring. Brian pushed me forward and my antagonist strode out from the crowd with flaring nostrils, fists up and big lips parted in a sneer. I closed my eyes, shielded my face with my left hand, and stretched my right arm out to protect myself. Herman came forward at a run, with blood-curdling shrieks and flailing arms. I stood rooted to the spot, the sounds of Herman's war-dance filling my ears, my outstretched fist trembling in the air before me. After what seemed like an age, there was a staggering blow to my knuckles. I opened my eyes to discover Herman recoiling backwards, lips split open and blood pouring over his chin. With a howl of dismay he pirouetted through the crowd and fled to the headmaster's office to report my crime.

It seemed unjust at the time that I should be caned and Herman comforted. But it added to a reputation that had already spread through the school as quickly as the newest cigarette card, and I resolved at once to exploit my eminence as the conqueror of Herman. I went from gang to gang in the playground, escorted by Brian (now promoted to first lieutenant), and informing my respectful listeners that henceforth I was not Vernon but Roger, that all uses of my former name, which had been no more than a disguise adopted for secret service reasons, would be as severely punished as remarks about red hair. Obedience was immediate and universal, and henceforth I was Roger to everyone, including my family, who were told that the choice was simple: either they ceased to call me Vernon, or I went to live with the Gypsies. (12-13)

Scruton's memoirs are worth reading and even if you do not share his political or philosophical or even (current?) theological views, you will be rewarded for the time spent reading this true artist of the English language. The book is Gentle Regrets and you can get it here.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Oh that is just SO funny. I love the way boys are (of all ages). Life is so much more interesting with them.