Being the title of a punishment essay I was set age 12 for talking in assembly. The prefect (from 1994 to 1999 I went to an independent school in Cambridge, so go figure) who set it thought he was King Shit because he put in the margin, "8 words per line, no deviation, hesitation, or repitition." My mother then cut him down to size by annotating that little number "Kindly learn to spell. Signed, L. Hazelnut, Parent." But anyhow. This is what I should have written.


There are those who go through their entire life without speaking. Certain strains of Zen Buddhist monks, for instance. Those of us who have watched Blackadder will no doubt be aware of the alarmingly Puritan and extremely rich Lord Whiteadder who, while munching on a turnip shaped like a thingy, did not speak as he had taken a vow of silence. And people who are deaf and mute go through their entire lives in silence, although that form of silence can surely be discounted because, being deaf and mute, they would be unaware of the concept of "noise" never having experienced it. But this is in turn debateable - surely it must be possible to explain, somehow, the concept of sound to a deaf-mute man. One could explain that undeaf (?) people are able to cause waves, like radio waves in a way, to be transmitted from our mouths and these can be received by ears, which are cunningly shaped like satellite dishes. However, like radio waves, if your antennae are disconnected, then you can receive them but not translate them into something understandable. But a deaf mute man can get away without talking - there is, after all, British Sign Language.

Clearly, therefore, this endeavour splits itself into two halves, which I am sure Constant Reader will be able to discern.

I - Silence is an Art Form

Of course, it is arguable that "silence," as in the absence of sound, is impossible to produce. When the Head Boy marches to the front in assembly and barks that word, like an acne-riddled hormonal sergeant major, he does not surely expect actual silence. What he really means is relative silence. The coughing from that boy in 4C who has a neverending cold, for one. The scrape of chairlegs on the parquet flooring. The Headmaster trotting into the front of the hall. All break this relative silence. As do, for that matter, lorries loaded with liquor trundling up Hills Road.

Of course relative silence is necessary, because otherwise people would not be able to hear Mr Sutton the RE master attempting to play "God of Concrete, God of Steel" on the organ. But that does not mean silence is an art. Not in this context; just a tool. Although when the morning hymn is one of Graham Kendrick's fortresses of ecclesiastic fail, one might wish it was sharpened occasionally.

But can silence ever be art? The aforementioned Lord Whiteadder and the Buddhist monk attempted to avoid making noise in order to aid their meditations. Indeed, in today's world, with traffic on every road and Boeing 747s thrumming overhead constantly, it is not uncommon for silence to be loud - almost oppressively so. If I may quote two works of less-than-scholarly standing, the reader will no doubt see this. Firstly, in Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's "Death Gate" series of novels, the Geg people who live on the continent of Drevlin - constantly battered by storms and being systematically overbuilt by a giant self-aware manufacturing plant - refer to death as the "Endless Hear Nothing." And secondly, in Danny Boyle's made-for-TV film "Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise," a hitch-hiking DJ - a man constantly surrounded by pulsing dance music - says to the protagonist, a trainee Kirby Salesman while his loud-mouthed supervisor is out selling, "silence is loud." And indeed it is, by dint of its very unusuality.

But unusuality alone does not make art. Tracey Emin's tent is certainly unusual. And Mierde de artista by Manzoni is also not something you can buy in Tesco's. But they are not art, they're simply cock-waving by pretention-filled publicity hungry media whores. Silence is unusual, but there are no variations on it. It is the absence of sound. It lacks enough variation to be a true art form. However, since silence is demanded, perhaps there needs to be more of it, even though it is impossible.

Unless, of course, assembly was to take place in a medium where sound is intransmissible...

II - Talking is Unnecessary

Now this is certainly more arguable. In today's digital, connected world, you can run an entire business without speaking to anyone - in theory. Thanks to text messaging, MSN Messenger, the Blackberry, the Internet, and similar. Indeed, even the deaf-mute cited above can use BSL.

But then again, if the Headmaster was to address the school by way of text messaging, there would be an awful lot of Blackberry thumb on his part, and also it would look silly and insult His dignity.

It is certainly necessary, however, not to talk if we are to preserve the goal of silence as an art form. But this does not address incidental sounds. And what if Mr Thurston the IT master accidentally clicks "Windows Narrator" by accident. "DEAR LORD AND FA THER OF MAN KIND. FOR GIVE OUR FOO LISH WAYS. RE CLOTHE US IN OUR RIGHT FUL MIND." Jesus wept. What an unholy racket that would be!

I think that British Sign Language is certainly the way to go to make talking unnecessary.

III - Conclusion

In short, gentlemen, I propose the following reforms to bring the School more into conformity with the ideals promoted in this essay:

1. Assembly to take place in geostationary orbit.
2. Hymns to be sung in BSL.


(And that's a double detention for young Hazelnut's IRON NODE 3 of 30. Score!)

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