December 2007: Bertie the Bear

While the teddy bear’s picnic that is the budget may be stealing the headlines in the past few days, I came across another little publicised news item that interested me. I bet few of you have heard about the Irish schoolteacher that got into bother when she encouraged her class to name a toy animal “Bertie”, did you?
No? Well, there you go. It just shows you that they still manage to cover up some of the less savoury stories in this downtrodden country.

It all began innocently enough for this national school teacher. She was not long out of training, and she had just started her stint at the school, called “Waiting For Replacements For The Rat-infested Pre-Fabs Since 1980” National School. (I know it’s a long-winded name for the place but it’s the principal, if you know what I mean.)

Anyway, this teacher…. let’s call her Mary, in deference to the Minister for Education… was happy to take up the temporary contract, the only one she was offered. In fact, the principal was so happy to have her; he did not ask her too many questions about religion and the like. Or politics for that matter. Mary settled in quickly and four months flew by without any trouble at all. It was when she introduced a teddy bear to the class that the real ructions began.

Mary asked the children to suggest a name for the cuddly brown bear as part of a project to teach them about animals. Little Willie left down his toy rifle, after pretending to shoot his pal Seamus with it, and put up his hand.

“Let’s call him Bertie” he said “he’s my favourite animal of all time”. The rest of the class launched into a chorus of agreement, saying Bertie was the most popular boy around. Well, not all of them joined in, actually. Enda and a few of his pals, sulked in the corner as the other kids milled around the teacher: “Yes, Miss! Yes, Miss! Let’s call him Bertie!”

“All right so, children, this is now officially Bertie the Bear” the teacher announced. From that moment on, her fate was sealed.

The secretary of the school, who actually preferred Rabbites to bears any day, snitched on her colleague. She reported to the principal, saying that Mary had broken a golden rule of the state’s new religion. Bertie, she explained to the bemused principal, was the new God and for this teacher to name a teddy bear Bertie was outright blasphemy.
The principal then got on his high horse and galloped up the nearest tribunal, telling the Judge that this jezebel should be charged with inciting hatred and insulting the whole of Ireland for her dastardly deed.

The teacher was promptly arrested and pleaded her innocence. She said that she was probably a bit idealistic and too full of new ideas. She just didn’t realise that it was such a problem in using Bertie’s name in such a perceived blasphemous way. She added that cultural differences between her and the rest of the country may have caused the problem. After all, she had been brought up in Northern Ireland where such things were of little importance.

Pretty soon, the extremists were out in force. “What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Bertie” the government press office said in a statement. Religious leaders stood up and called for her to be punished by forty days of fasting for making fun of Bertie. Some even suggested forcing her to go to mass every Sunday and to eat fish instead of meat on a Friday.

Others Fianna Failers pointed out that while there is no ban in their manifesto on using images of Bertie as much as possible, likenesses are considered highly offensive by them. The fact that the children got to take Bertie the Bear home with them one night a week, and the fact that they kept little notebooks with his name on the front only added to the outrage of his followers.

“Who knows what they are writing in those little books when they are alone with Bertie” one particularly zealous follower was heard to rant, “and Bertie will not be held responsible for anything they say he did …or didn’t do! They might even be forcing money down his throat!”

And so the poor teacher got her come-uppance for daring to slur the name of Bertie. Thankfully, she avoided the Lenten fast and, indeed, as foreigners began to hold the episode up to ridicule; her punishment was not too bad. She was told to leave the country and go to somewhere like Sudan where her devious ways might be tolerated.


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