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Spanish Inquisition

We tell ourselves that at least we don’t live in a country where a misnamed teddy bear and a word in the wrong ear can land you in clink. But as Laurence Inman has been hearing, in the classroom, the world of sneaks and snoops is alive and well.

If the well of vindictiveness in you is unusually dark and deep, then it would be very convenient to live in a country where people can be stoned to death for silly things like calling their pet spider the wrong name.

Anyone who had dared to do you some slight wrong would have to live in constant fear of being denounced to the authorities and suffering by proxy your immediate and violent revenge.

Just picture it.

You’re a young man and you have designs upon a shapely young woman in the next street. She, however, would rather spend her time with some big ugly bruiser who lives two streets away. She regards you as less than a piece of snot. She and the bruiser, you imagine, spend whole evenings in each other’s arms, sniggering at your presumption.

In this country, your only choice is to suffer until the pain goes away. Writing out your self-pity in a drivelly poem can help, but not much.

But suppose you live in a country where the virtue of young women, and their obedience to their families, is regarded as (literally) a matter of life and death.

Bid farewell to sob-yourself-to-sleep misery and welcome in pain-to-your-enemies happiness!

And all for a whispered word in the right ears about their illicit canoodlings, their disregard for their parents’ wishes, their choice of names for their teddy-bears.

On this side of the Earth such a refined system of justice has long gone the way of steam engines and television programmes you could watch for more than five minutes without screaming.

Not that long, though.

I can easily remember a time when an unwanted pregnancy was considered the ruination of a young girl’s whole life. Couples who lived together without first going to the trouble and expense of getting married were thought of as an alien species. And if a man ever showed the slightest sign of the ‘wrong’ kind of interest in another man….well, that sort of thing could land you in gaol.

In America in the early fifties everyone was twitching their curtains on the look-out for any indication of un-American activities on the part of their neighbours. And in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia whole train-loads of people disappeared on the say-so of embittered employees or spurned lovers.

I suppose the hey-day of mean-minded vengeance in this country was during the witch trials of the seventeenth century.

Potato crop turned to mulch ? It must be the fault of that old widow at the other end of the village.

Can’t get anywhere with buxom young Bess at The Rackmakers Arms ? That fourteenth pint I had last Friday made me proper ill. Do you think she cursed it?

Old Cuthbert still banging on about the ten groats you owe him? It’s strange, isn’t it, the way he goes out alone at night past the four-acre field where that cow disappeared twenty years ago.

And then there was the Inquisition! Get a semi-colon in the wrong place during early morning prayers and by nightfall you could be roasted alive from the feet upwards, or lowered slowly head first into a barrel of head-eating maggots.

Thankfully, we’re a more mature society. Apart from the odd flare-up of skinny chavs on Portsmouth housing estates marching against paedophiles (or anyone who sounds like they might be: paediatricians, piano-tuners, pea-podders, peat-cutters, blokes called Pete,) you’re pretty safe from loony vigilantes and their gnashing dogs and their squawking buggies.

Except you’re not. Not if you’re a teacher.

Teachers have, in the last few years, imposed upon themselves a hideously expensive apparatus which allows any nutter or liar to make one of their colleague’s lives a living hell.

In my next two articles I will explain how it is done. I warn you though: you will find it difficult to believe.

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