Animals to calm the wild beasts

20th January 2006 at 00:00
There's a clergyman in Suffolk who takes his donkey to church with him.

"Animals are central figures in many biblical stories," he explains. "It's hard to doze off in church when there's a donkey standing in the aisle." He also keeps goats, chickens, lambs and alpacas, and he takes them to schools as well.

I want to do that. After all, who can imagine English literature without animals? And wouldn't it be great to have something big, trained and on your side in a fight? The question is, which animals would I need for each year group... "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" Yeah, a stonking great shire horse looming above them would be almost enough to keep my fizzy Year 7s in order. Clomp, clomp, sit down, page nine. And at the first sign of trouble? "Exit, pursued by a bear."

"Tyger! Tyger! burning bright..." Marvellous. A massive, rippling tiger padding around my Year 8s, staring down the ones who are too cool for school. Somehow I don't think we'd have the usual quota of paper aeroplanes grazing the back of my head.

"A snake came to my water-trough..."' Ah, yes. An animal I could wear while it was still alive. I would slink into my Year 9 classroom with a 10-foot python coiled around me. It would slide its glinting gaze down the register, hissing. I don't think we'd have any Tarquins or Donald Ducks that day. No more interruptions. No more backchat. Great.

But, I don't know, where would I put the tiger at lunchtime, and how would I get the shire horse up three flights of stairs? The snake wouldn't fit in my locker and the bear would dent my car. Hmm... "They were the footsteps of a gigantic hound..." That's it! I want a dog. A great, beautiful dog who has spent years watching people and still likes them. A wise, impressive hound that can silence a fight with a single bark.

When I close my eyes I see small hands stroking soft fur. Deep eyes and a big friendly nose. This dog would have no favourites but would be loyal to whoever would pat him. He would quietly curl up at the feet of the class bully, the star pupil or the misfit and treat them all the same.

Above all, the dog's presence would soothe. Surely, everything - workload, discipline, targets, parents, inspections, exams - would be easier and nicer if we could all just calm down.

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