Until I started travelling in the Communist world, my main experience of living under tyranny was my time at a boarding school on the edge of Dartmoor, 60 years ago.
The headmaster, an enormous, booming man, had many fine qualities. But he was given to dreadful rages, which tended to strike late on Saturday afternoons.
He would throb with fury because some of the more loutish boys had left their games clothes on the changing room floor. For some reason, he viewed this as a terrible crime closely related to murder.
So he would summon us into the assembly hall, and harangue us as darkness fell outside. The more we stood mulishly in front of him, saying nothing and with our eyes downcast, the angrier he became.
Sometimes he would hold up a pair of muddy football shorts as horrific evidence of the latest atrocity.
Collective punishments – a ban on eating toast, or the cancellation of a promised film show – would follow, along with more shouting and angry notices in red ink, threatening worse to come.
Most of us were guiltless of wrongdoing. But we were small, and he was huge. The staff seemed more scared of him than we were.
We were on a windswept hilltop miles from anywhere. We had no escape. We assumed our letters home were censored, so we put up with these ludicrous exhibitions and waited for the storm to pass.
Oddly enough, the terror did not work. People carried on leaving their clothes on the floor, just the same.
I had thought such childish things were long over in my life. But a week ago I found that I was, once again, living at the mercy of an equally petulant would-be despot.
Matthew Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, went on national TV to threaten to ban outdoor exercise if people continued to break ‘social distancing’ rules.