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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 7 (October 1, 1938)

Hostirical Hocus

page 52

Hostirical Hocus

History can be almost too interesting for a school subject if approached from the right angle. There are two angles of approach—the dryangle, and the spryangle. The first is what the teacher teaches; the second is what the pupil makes of it. With a few disconnected facts to work on a schoolboy of imagination can produce a private history of England calculated to make professional historians kick themselves black and blue to think of their neglected opportunities. There is creative genius in youth which history is capable of bringing out in purple patches. For this reason it is a criminal act to retard a boy's mental development by feeding him with historical date pudding after the first standard. It is in this standard that all his most valuable impressions are formed. It is at this stage of his development that he learns that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, and that Cardinal Wolsey was the man who invented underwear. It is here that he gathers valuable data concerning 1066 so that, whatever his future occupation may be, he can put it to any use from adding his overdraft to advertising socks. 1066 is capable of anything. To advertise socks with it all one has to do is to write 1066 in large letters at the top and continue: “If the Britons had worn So-easy socks at Hastings they wouldn't have got cold feet. Socked but un-sacked!”

It has always been my fear that some historian, crazed by the repeating dismals of history, will do something to prove that the Battle of Hastings wasn't fought in 1066—in fact, wasn't fought at all on account of a strike among the woad-pickers and pikers. This would be a national disaster, depriving a deplorable number of people of the whole of their historical knowledge. It is poor consolation to contemplate that, if we lost 1066, The Battle of Hastings, posterity would still have 1938, The Battle of Hustings.

News With Whiskers.

History is not concerned with the future. An event has to be practically forgotten before it can be history; a happening so fresh that it can be authenticated by living witnesses doesn't give an historian a dog's chance. Living witnesses are notoriously drab. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it's a darn sight duller.

History is News with moss on it. Not until an event is at least a hundred years old is it handed over to the historians to be treated hostirically.
“Guy was merely enjoying a quiet pipe of Raleigh Twist among the Coronation fireworks.”

“Guy was merely enjoying a quiet pipe of Raleigh Twist among the Coronation fireworks.”

Take Guy Fawkes' case. If the printer's proofs of this hi-story were handed to Guy for correction no doubt he'd remark: “Not a bad thriller; who wrote it?” And yet Guy Fawkes was supposed to have set out to lift Parliament to dizzy heights, to explode the parliamentary principles of his day and relieve the tedium of legislation by a real good blow out. But, if the truth were known, Guy was merely enjoying a quiet pipe of Raleigh Twist down in the basement among the coronation fireworks when discovered by the Keeper of the Wassail who had popped down for “a quick one.”

Some historian, a hundred years later, dramatised Guy's smoke on the theory that “where there's smoke there's fire.” Had he lived to-day he would be employed revising Shakespeare page 53 for Hollywood. He was one of the brighter lads whose history had not progressed past the first standard.

Robert the Bruise.

I cherish my historical impressions of childhood and have never done anything to disturb them. I still admire the concentration of Bruce The Spider who climbed up the wall of his cave and came a thud time and time again until he finally swung from the ceiling and so, in some incomprehensible way, saved Scotland. (His real name was Robert The Bruise.) Why this saved Scotland has never been clear, but, saving being an old Scottish pastime, any one who could do a bit of saving for Scotland was bound to be a national hero.

Double-header History.

The Pictsandscots, Williamanmary, Roundheadsandroyalists and Greatfireolondon will never be eradicated from my put-and-take. This type of double-header history should be fostered by our educationalists. A boy never forgets the Pictsandscots even if he does think of it as the earliest form of Scots finance, associated with “pickins.” Without resorting to the contemptible practice of looking up the history book, I propose to give a brief history of England from the Skinflint period. Not that the Skinflints really count, for history didn't begin until William the Conqueror, whose real name was Norman, called after the Norman conquest which he invented to get himself into the hisory book.

The Skinflints.

The Skinflints were a backward people, meaning that all their history ran backwards and was lost among the Jutes who sacked them. Jute sacks are still known in Britain. The Skinflints were a very early people. They were so early that they didn't need beds and had to bury pottery to prove that they lived at all. They had a skin complex, but it was different from the modern one. They spent the whole of their existence skinning things. Nothing with a skin on was safe from them. When they had finished skinning all the animals they skinned each other. They did their skinning with flints which naturally gave rise to their name Angles, flints being notorious for their acute angles. They were very tough; it is not surprising that it took the Romans nearly forty years to absorb them. It would have taken longer if the Skinflints had not had a queen named Bow-legged Sarah who led a revolt which collapsed as soon as the Romans sat on it. It couldn't have been a very strong revolt in the first place or Bow-legged Sarah would have ridden it herself instead of leading it.

The Muddle Ages.

Next came the early Muddle Ages which were so primitive that nice people never speak of them. They are only taught at night schools because some of their incidents will not bear the light of day. In the Muddle Ages all the women were locked up in castles and all the men were wrapped up in tin. The men spent their time “tin-canning.” This was also known as the opening of the Footle Period; the Footle Barons lived in strongholds—with keep, which made work unnecessary and gave them plenty of time for tin-opening. Their wives spent their time praying that their lords would return home unopened, but very often the family tin was returned empty with the lid off.

More Muddle.

After this nothing much happened until the Stuarts who were famous for making history brighter. They were bad kings but good copy. Charles II was known as the Merry Monarch because he had the laugh on Cromwell. He adopted an orange girl named Nell Grin who had a peeling laugh and comforted him when he had the pip. She was known as Sweet Nell of the Old Brewery and was probably of Maltese extraction. She had a good appetite which got Charles II worried at times, and his last words were “Don't let poor Nellie starve.” The orange diet was not valued in those days.

Other characters whom I cherish are Richard the Racer who offered to sell his kingdom for a horse, and Ethelred the Unready, who was always a great comfort and inspiration at examination time. I also admired Drinking Drake, who, when the Spaniards were arriving in gallons, had a few more bowls on Plymouth Hoe and said “Ho, Ho! There's time to finish our bowls before we blow the froth off the Spanish gallons.” The Henrys too were interesting contrasts. One lost a son and “never smiled again.” Another lost wife after wife but kept his sense of humour. I have always felt sorry for the poor Spanish Armada boys who were wrecked on the coast of Scotland and naturally lost everything.

I know a lot more history which isn't in the books, but I am reserving it for a “Children's Cheerful History.” There will be no dates and very little History.

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