Wednesday, 24 June 2009

British history lessons on the bridge to Zimbabwe

The young man walked by my side as I crossed the railway bridge over the Lower Zambezi between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"How is Gordon Brown?" he inquired politely.

"Stumbling along without much of a hope, as usual," I replied.

"And Tony Blair? What did you think of him?"

"He had his moments and I often think that it's a shame that he's gone." When was this fellow going to start trying to sell me one of his copper bracelets, like all his other street-side Zimbabwean colleagues?

"And of course John Major, what about him?"

Still no sign of the copper bracelets. "John Major was a good man," I said, "but given a thankless task."

"That is very true. It was tough to follow Maggie wasn't it?"

"I suppose."

"What about old Jim Callaghan?"

I was intrigued. How much further could he go? "Carry on," I prompted, increasingly impressed.

"Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Mr Wilson again of course, Lord Home, Harold Macmillan, Anthony Eden, Mr Churchill, Attlee and of course Churchill again."

"How do you know all of this?" I asked.

"I studied British history at school. That's the easy part too!" he proclaimed proudly.

An ingenious way to sell copper bracelets to passing tourists, perhaps (though I didn't make a purchase), but it causes pause for thought. How many schoolchildren in classrooms across the UK could name, in order, the nation's prime ministers dating back to the Second World War? If this young Zimbabwean can do so, as he roams the dusty roads effectively begging for a living having abandoned any hope of furthering himself in his strife-filled mess of a country, what does that say about our education system?

On the subject of copper bracelets, my father traded one for his old trainers, dripping and sodden from an excursion to the Vic Falls. He is wearing it now, pleased as punch. Good for him.

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