The boys who let rip

JOHN the Champion Farter was a character from my very early years of teaching. Unable to get attention from his peers through academic brilliance or conventional physical and social skills, this smallish boy with his oldish Inspector Morse face discovered that he could produce uncatalysed noxious emissions, accompanied by a ripping canvas sound, entirely at will.

His sulphurated spell centre-stage came to a nasty end thanks to a bar of laxative chocolate just around the time when it looked like he would perfect yogic flying.

When I was a pupil, breaking wind had its own codes and rituals. If someone popped, it was your constitutional right to shout "sixers" and thump them six times, unless they had first invoked diplomatic immunity with the cry of "safety!" The farter could request "returners" on the sixers, giving him the right to hit back, unless his tormentor had originally stipulated "sixers, nae returners!"

It was also possible to have returners on the returners unless . . . you get the idea. One raspberry could provoke an escalation of returners that might last for several hours until somebody would hit too hard. Then you would hear: "(thump) aiya . . . (thump) aiya . . . (thump) aiya" - then perhaps a defiant "ya big ponce" before a final, semi-tearful (thump) "aiyaaaah!"

All of this took place at a time when the girls in the class were beginning to blossom. Ranks of boys sitting with jumpers pulled up over noses as improvised gas masks put the fact that the lassies "widnae go oot wi' us" down to a lack of taste and judgment on their part.

Flatulence has now gone mainstream, or so it would seem. The last time I was in the cinema there was a trailer for a film called Thunderpants. I haven't seen it yet and probably won't. I'm saddened by the whole business, as I always am when childish vulgarity hits the screens. Young boys spend a lot of time and effort doing things they think are daring and rude. What a crashing disappointment it must be for them to find out that their coarseness was tame enough to merit cinematic treatment.

The next thing we know, CDs will have stickers warning parents that the songs contain swearing. Boys will then no longer have the thrill of covertly listening to these discs in their bedrooms, tense with the possibility of maw or paw walking in. Maw and paw will already know about the profanity. Where's the fun in that? As Shakespeare said: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!"

Gregor Steele recalls that the worst windbreakers were "silent but violent".

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