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In the opening paragraphs of Anthony Powell’s The Soldier’s Art, the narrator, Nick Jenkins, relates his purchase of a military greatcoat upon setting off to play his part in WWII:

An assistant, bent, elderly, bearded, with the congruous demeanour of a Levantine trader, bore the greatcoat out of a secret recess in the shadows and reverently invested me within its double-breasted, brass-buttoned, stiffly pleated khaki folds.  He fastened the front with rapid bony fingers, doing up the lapels to the throat; then stepped back a couple of paces to judge the effect.  In a three-sided full-length looking-glass nearby I, too, critically examined the back view of the coat’s shot-at-dawn cut, aware at the same time that soon, like Alice, I was to pass, as it were by virtue of these habiliments, through its panes into a world no less enigmatic.

Now, I have no particular knowledge of or interest in the lexicon of tailoring, but that phrase “shot-at-dawn cut” caught my eye enough to pique my curiosity.  A brief bit of research, however, has produced no satisfactory explanation of the expression (beyond, of course, the general sense of capital punishment meted out by a Court Martial), nor a description of cut to which it applies.

I know that my readership contains both a number of military men and a number of latter-day Beau Brummels.  Can any of you offer some illumination regarding this question?

The gels are off at a final session of camp this week, this time a VBS program run by the local Baptists.  (I, meanwhile, am enjoying my second week of hols at home with Mrs. Robbo.  So far we have done some hiking, done a lot of gardening and gone to the moovies and we intend to get in some kayaking, too.  You appreciate the elegance of our plan, Mr. Bond.)

Anyhoo, at camp the 10-year old has run up against her first bona fide bully, a young tough who apparently has a track record of making other kids’ lives unpleasant.  She came home in near-hysterics the other day, reporting that this boy had punched her, knocked her Nats cap off and made fun of her.

Of course we talked to the program administrator about the problem and we also instructed the gel that when this sort of thing happened she needed to let her counselors know eftsoons.  However, amidst the upset, I also noted an opportunity to put this situation to some good.

You see, the gel has always been something of a bully herself, barking at her sisters at the least provocation and also on occasion trying to muscle around her mother.  As she sat with me after her run-in at camp, sobbing about how somebody could be that mean, I very gently said, “Well, perhaps now you understand a bit better what it’s like for other people when you’re being ugly to them.” 

I won’t say that the scales fell from her eyes and that she suddenly saw all, or that she had a Road to Damascus conversion and is suddenly all sweetness and light, but I will say that my observation caused her to sit up and think a bit.  And although no parent relishes the thought of his or her child being unduly pushed about by the thugs of the world, I’m not so sure that such a valuable lesson in self-awareness isn’t worth a few taunts and elbows either.  

Incidentally, the boy involved is named Stanley.  This name has now entered the family lexicon: “To Stanley” or “To be a Stanley” is our new term for bullying.  Something tells me that the next time I have to remind the gel not to be a Stanley, it will hit home.


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August 2008