A breakthrough

As an Englishwoman of the old school whose scholars were taught not to show their feelings, not to shout for joy or cry for mercy, not to lie on the floor and drum their heels when thwarted, I would like to be told by someone in authority whether the behavior of present-day footballers is a good thing or bad.

In the past, when you scored a goal, you loped back to the center of the field with supreme nonchalance, cheered by the crowd, of course, but disregarded and uncomplimented by your fellow players, who respected your modesty and indeed pretty well cut you dead. Nowadays, should you, after fouling a few opponents and arguing with the umpire, score a goal, you leap in the air - raising your clenched fist like some galvanized communist - after which every member of your team hurls himself upon you in a paroxysm of love, hugging you, ruffling your hair, just not kissing you, but only just.

Long famed for being a nation of inhibited automatons, the English have suddenly become extroverts, in public at any rate, shouting praise or abuse at hitherto gentle sportsmen, such as cricketers and tennis players, and in moments of triumph flinging their arms round each other's necks or bursting unashamedly into tears.

I know there is a theory, subscribed to wholeheartedly by Latin countries, that if you do not give vent to your emotions something frightful happens. You become repressed and peculiar and are bound, eventually, to beat your wife. Up to now we have been prepared to believe this without intending to do anything about it, chiefly, perhaps, for the sake of good manners. Having hysterics, we felt, was rather tiresome for other people. We also believed that people were not all that interested in our misfortunes, preferring their own any day, so it was unkind to burden them with our tears. Even our joys were expressed in flat noncommittal voices.

Since we were almost human, our fires were there, of course -- buried under layers of self-discipline - and now it seems they have burst through, like a volcano erupting, and are raging across the nation in a lava of weeping, laughing, kissing, swearing, hugging, whooping, and throwing tin cans at unpopular figures.

I would like to think this means we have at last become a thoroughly healthy people, breaking out of the fetters that have constrained us for so long and have kept our upper lips so terribly stiff. If someone can assure me that this is so I will be resigned, I will be content, even though I still think the understatement can contain a world of meaning.

''I'm afraid,'' we said to Mr. Jenkins one day in the war, ''your wife has been killed in an air raid.'' ''Oh dear,'' said Mr. Jenkins.

Well, what elsecouldm he say!

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