16 FEBRUARY 1991, Page 6


CRAIG BROWN We had to cancel our son Silas's christening last Saturday because we were stuck in the snow in Essex and the church was in Sussex. I am a Catholic, and Catholics take christenings rather more seriously than Anglicans. As far as I can gather, an Anglican christening is the equivalent of receiving a junior club mem- bership card, all very pleasant but of no very great consequence. For Catholics, though, it is matter of eternal life or limbo. A child who dies without being baptised cannot gain entrance to heaven. In the Religious Instruction classes at my Catho- lic prep-school, Baptism was our favourite subject because it allowed the most far- reaching hypotheses. We were skilled at side-tracking the teacher into all the more abstruse areas, and the poor man always felt conscience-bound to pursue each fresh possibility to its outer limits. 'Sir! Sir!' we would say, 'What if you were stuck on a desert island with no water at all and the baby was going to die in thirty seconds — could you use sand?' Well,' he would reply, after some thought, 'there would be water in the sea.' But sir! sir! That would be salt water! You said it had to be fresh water!' There would then follow a highly technical discussion over what was water and what was not. Tomato soup was borderline, but Cocoa-Cola was definitely out, as was melted-down Mars Bar. Saliva proved a tricky one for the teacher, parti- cularly as the mere mention of the word sent the class into a frenzy of spitting, so as to afford him some practical assistance as he struggled with his conscience. Twenty- five years on, snowbound and with not a drop of water emerging from the taps, I have been trying to remember our R.I. teacher's ruling on snow. If it has melted then presumably it passes with flying col- ours, but what if it doesn't have time to melt? Happily, Silas is alive and kicking and unaware of these catechismic worries that hover above his head. The Church of England never seems vexed by such issues, applying itself to more matter-of-fact con- cerns. This is why life is more colourful when viewed from the Catholic Church, and why we are right to suspect that life for Anglicans will be forever tinged with the possibility of boredom.

0 ne of the grimmer prospects facing any parent is the task of looking around schools. I still feel as if it was only a month or two ago that I bade a cheery farewell to rugger posts, long division, the smell of damp cabbage and the enthusiasm of phy- sics teachers, and now I find myself cata- pulted back into their midst. Trips around most schools can be jettisoned by a glance at their prospectus. School prospectuses will one day be acknowledged in their proper place, up there among the classics

of English comic literature. Schools with dreadful exam results like to boast that they are 'not narrowly academic' and that they prefer to produce 'young people ready and willing to contribute effectively to their surroundings'. In my favourite prospectus, the headmaster explains that the unusually high number of 16-year-olds deserting the school shows that 'we accomplish such a good job in the five years before 16 . . . that our achievement enables older teena- gers to make a change at 16 with enthu- siasm, confidence and success. Perhaps if we were less successful beforehand more would remain for the sixth form because they could not face the alternatives!' Alas, an addendum slip stapled to the front of this prospectus states that, since going to press, a new headmaster has been appointed.

Of course, even the grandest schools can look a little suspect if viewed from a peculiar angle. In Brisbane last year, I picked up a copy of the popular Australian magazine the Picture, attracted by the coverline, MORE ARSE THAN CLASS! BUMS TO THE WALL AS POMS PLAY POOFBALL!

Inside, a colour exclusive showed a picture of the Eton Wall Game with the headline, WALL BANGERS TURN BUM BANDITS. The report may be of interest to those who are thinking of putting their sons down for Eton. 'Players in the idiotic Eton Wall Game will do anything NOT TO SCORE a goal' it begins, 'and the last time anyone did he was FLOGGED UNMERCIFULLY. That was in 1911, and the culprit was so BRU- TALLY BEATEN he suffered SEVERE BRAIN DAMAGE and remained at the famous 'Most of them are perfectly harmless.' English public school for the rest of his life. He was eventually given a position as a house master!' The Wall Game, continues the report, 'has settled into a harmless ritual that provides what English public schoolboys like most — BUM-GROPING and CROTCH-LICKING. Hogging still occurs, but these days it happens in the dormitories afterwards, between consenting partners.' One team, it explains, is made up of `wimpish boys', the other of 'the school's most notorious SADO-MASOCHISTIC BUL- LIES . . . The only object is that at some time during the game every boy should have the ball shoved INSIDE HIS TROUSERS . . . After their CHARACTER-BUILDING three hours, the boys head back to the dormitories for some well-earned hot baths, jam roll and soDomy!' Of course, some Spectator readers may doubt the veracity of this report. But their doubts will be silenced by the concluding quote from one man who should certainly know. The wall game helped make Britain great. Boys make intimate associations on the playing field that serve them throughout their lives' says 'a veteran of the 1947 bout'. His name is 'Sir Julian Trevelyan-Welk,' which I suspect may be a pseudonym for someone whose real name is so absurdly upper-crust that very few Australians would believe a word that he says.

Am I alone in noticing an uncanny similarity between the personalities, mar- riages, destinies and even, to some extent, appearances of the two couples Desmond Wilcox and Esther Rantzen, and Harold Evans and Tina Brown? The two men were Sixties grammar school media liberals; both had one son and two daughters before divorcing their first wives at the height of their success in order to marry Oxford- educated office girls many years their junior; the two women both found that their own reputations grew and grew while their husbands reputations dwindled. Both Desmond and Harold now only really get a chance to appear in the media if their wives are asked for an 'at home' portrait by a useful magazine. It seems odd that Evans and Brown still carry a certain kudos, whilst Wilcox and Rantzen merit only groans. I suspect it has something to do with Evans and Brown basing themselves abroad, and therefore seeming just a little bit more exclusive. Graham Greene, Christopher Isherwood, Joan Collins and Dudley Moore have all added a certain mystique to their reputations by staying well away, and the same could be said of Kim Philby, Ronnie Biggs and Diana Mosley. The solution is obvious. Desmond and Esther must pack their bags at once. I am told there is a splendid opening for a concerned media couple in Fairbanks, Alaska.