By Alfie Hardman
The past never stays where you left it.
Spooky eh? I’ll explain later.
So last year Dad quit his job. He’s now teaching maths at a school in London. We felt he was already well qualified for this big career change, having already faced his most difficult pupil years before. This one was so crap he even had to take exercise books over holiday, sit every morning for as long as it took and complete the 50 questions that mounted in difficulty. By the end this wasn’t just an ordeal for him and his teacher, but everyone in a 10-mile radius.
This wretched child was of course me, when watching The Cane, a new play by Mark Ravenhill some of these old memories dusted themselves down and seemed to glare down at me.
As the tube poster for The Cane states, ‘the past never stays where you left it’.
The play centres around a father who is about to retire after teaching at the same school for 45 years. He is highly regarded by the current pupils, but they learn his past job as Deputy Headmaster was to administer punishments with a cane. Upon learning this an angry mob develops on his doorstep resulting in him and his wife not leaving this house for six days.
What I got most from the play was the angst people felt in amending the past. For Edward, the deputy headmaster he justifies his actions by saying he was simply following rules set down by the school.
Correcting the past is pretty relevant in the US with students in Virginia, Texas and Georgia pulling down confederate statues. It’s now pretty relevant here with calls for Nelson’s column to be replaced with something else… a Wilberforce or someone.
And they have a point, as well as being a war hero Nelson was a white supremacist. Being the typical cultural terrorist of that imperial time, he wiped away cultures by implicating British ones. You gotta love the irony… so many people get uppity about preserving a history that wiped out so many others, its disturbingly British. Admittedly there is a black sailor up there with Nelson, a little nod to the many Africans and West Indians also fought our wars alongside us, but you’d need a crane or telescope to see the him.
If it wasn’t for the slow rise of right-wing extremism filtering through Europe and this play I don’t think all this would bother me as much as it does. ‘Old norms’ didn’t seem to be creeping into the present like they do now.
After the cane became banned at schools Edward decides to keep it in the loft. He does this for no other reason other than honouring the past. Same as dear ol’ Nelson the war hero who argued for slavery. As the play goes on the mob outside his house begins to grow and Edward begins to bully his family more. Before seeing this play and reading a little around it I hadn’t really grasped the importance of seeing histories ‘heroes’ neutrally, I do now.