Thursday, May 30, 2024
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The boy who identified as a car


THE crazed and sinister woke trend for ‘self-identification’, now spreading to schools via ‘on-message’ teachers, seems impervious to rational argument which is becoming almost as ineffective as a salvo of arrows against a Trident missile. Children have always played games of make-believe without actually believing that they are mummies or daddies, cops or robbers, let alone cats! Such games involve fantasy and pretence which blots out some of the constraints of reality. But what if they really did ‘self-identify’ with the objects of such fantasy – a prospect worthy of Monty Python.

Should they not go the whole hog? 

When I was a schoolboy our teacher read us the following poem published in Punch magazine. Apart from humour for its own sake (sadly lacking in the fanaticism of our times), I should like to share it with you as illuminating the logical consequences of so-called ‘self-identification’.    


H.A. Field.

Young Ethelred was only three
Or somewhere thereabouts, when he
Began to show in divers ways
The early stages of the craze 
For learning the particulars 
Of motor bikes and motor cars.
He started with a little book
To enter numbers which he took,
And though his mother often said,
‘Now do be careful Ethelred;
Oh dear! Oh dear! What shall I do
If anything runs over you?’
(Which Ethelred could hardly know,
And sometimes crossly told her so),
It didn’t check his zeal a bit,
But rather seemed to foster it;
Indeed it would astonish you
To hear of all the things he knew.
He guessed the make (and got it right)
Of every car that came in sight,
And knew as well its mpg,
Its mph and £sd,
What gears it had, what brakes, and what –
In short he knew an awful lot.

Now when a boy thinks day and night
Of motor cars with all his might
He gets affected in the head,
And so it was with Ethelred.
He called himself a ‘Packford Eight’
And wore a little number-plate
Attached behind with bits of string,
And cranked himself like anything,
And buzzed and rumbled ever so
Before he got himself to go.
He went about on all his fours,
And usually, to get indoors,
He pressed a button, then reversed,
And went in slowly, backmost first.
He took long drinks from mug and cup
To fill his radiator up
Before he started out for school
(It kept, he said, his engine cool);
And when he got to school he tried 
To park himself all day outside,
At which the Head became irate
And caned him on his number-plate.

So week by week he grew more like
A motor car or motor bike,
Until one day an oily smell
Hung round him and he wasn’t well.
‘That’s odd, ‘ he said, ‘I wonder what
Has caused the sudden pains I’ve got.
No motor gets an aching tum
Through taking in petroleum.’
With that he cranked himself, but no,
He couldn’t get himself to go,
But merely buzzed a bit inside,
Then gave a faint chug-chug and died.

Now since his petrol-tank was full,
They labelled him ‘inflammable’,
And wisely saw to it that he
Was buried safely out at sea.
So if at any time your fish
Should taste a trifle oilyish,
You’ll know that fish has lately fed
On what remains of Ethelred.

Footnote: Hubert Astley Field attended Manchester Grammar School between 1914 and 1917, and taught physics and chemistry there from 1923 to 1963. ‘Haffy’, as he was known, was the author of a number of whimsical poems which were collected into a booklet on his retirement and can be seen here: Haffy Field Selected Poems.pdf

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Frank Palmer
Frank Palmer
Dr Frank Palmer is a philosopher and author. He was taught by Roger Scruton who was his PhD supervisor and during the 1980s was part of a thinktank of academics Roger formed to fight damaging trends in education. Frank’s last book was Literature and Moral Understanding (Oxford University Press).

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