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What do you think of as an ‘aggressive’ sound?

I don’t mean big, big noises, like that of a plane crash, or a bomb blast, but everyday sounds, the kind that make us jump, or cringe, or that portend an unpleasant and possibly mildly destructive event.  The screech of car brakes, for instance, or the crash of broken glass, or the persistent barking of a dog.   My personal choice would be Margaret Thatcher delivering a patronising lecture at the despatch box, but then we all have differing sensitivities on such matters.    

For the children of St. Monica’s, a Catholic Primary School north of London, we must add to this catalogue of terrifying, potentially trauma-inducing dins, the one produced by a teacher’s whistle. 

Members of staff at St. Monica’s have been instructed, presumably by the head teacher, to end this awful practice once and for all.  Instead of summoning the children into school from the playground with a short blast they must now ‘raise their hands’.   The whistle, the head of the school avers, makes an ‘aggressive’ sound.  Raised hands, I can only presume, represent a kinder, gentler gesture.     

My immediate fear is that raised hands may be interpreted in the school playground as a gesture of surrender rather than a summons to return to class.  And if the children were to ignore the raised hands, or worse, laugh at them, it might well traumatise the teachers.  In my experience, teachers are very prone to being traumatised, more so than the members of any other profession …. but that is another topic for discussion.    

We know what it is that the headmaster, or headmistress, behind this order thinks – or rather we assume we know what he thinks from what we have read in the newspapers – but we can only speculate what the teachers think because they are the recipients of the new instruction, not the instructor.  It is probably safe to assume that they will be equally divided, as teachers seem to be on virtually every other subject under the sun.  That raises the grim prospect of a fierce national debate, in which members of the teaching profession, not to mention the parents, divide into warring camps, whistlers and hand-raisers – a situation likely to lead to an Official Enquiry or a Government White Paper, or a Parliamentary Commission.

I wonder what the children think.   

Have they been complaining all along about excessive whistling, or just recently?  Have they complained at all?  Either way, do they truly feel traumatised by the sound of a teacher’s toot when the time comes to return from playground to classroom?   All I can say is that I have not read or heard of any such complaints.  I shall be asking about it with some of my neighbours with school-age kids, the results of which I shall be happy to share with you.

If the children of St. Monica’s have not complained, then we are entitled to pose a simple question of the school head, or parent, administrator, or health officer concerned:  “What on earth are you going on about?”

It occurs to me, even as I write this, that the ‘aggressive’ line of argument may just be a cover, a way of disguising the true objection to the whistle: that it is not so much frightening as demeaning.

That argument would make more sense.  After all, we summon dogs with whistles or whistling sounds, and no human being wants to be treated like a dog, not even a happy Labrador galloping towards its owner with a stick in its mouth, ears and tail flopping about in canine ecstasy. 

And what about that awful breed, the football referees?  Those black-shirted thugs have been known to reduce even the most dedicated professional players to tears, penalising them merely for inadvertently bringing an elbow into contact with an opponent’s eye-socket, and sometimes for no better reason than a trailing foot left in his path to goal. The wonder is that the players, who belong to a very effective union, the Professional Footballers Association, have not launched an organised protest against this inhumane treatment at the hands of these tyrannical whistle-happy black-shirts.

I have to admit that I was once traumatised by a whistle. 

The instrument in question appeared in a ghost story written by M.R. James, entitled “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to you, My Lad”.  No, it is not about an on-field confrontation between a footballer and a referee, although it does sound like that.  It is actually about a man who finds a bone-whistle in a graveyard.  The whistle is inscribed, “Who is this who is coming”.  When the man blows on it, a ghostly figure in black appears. Other strange occurrences follow, but I won’t spoil the story – or frighten you – by describing them.

 So, if you want to know about the power of the whistle, read M.R. James.  But be warned: you will not sleep for weeks. 

Come to think of it, perhaps the head of St. Monica’s has been reading M.R. James.  That would explain everything. 

Nothing else does.

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