LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX

001-copyThere is an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Bart is told the facts of life in characteristically clumsy fashion by his father as the camera then pans away to an aerial view of Springfield whilst Homer’s son and heir criss-crosses the landscape, running to and from the homes of each friend to pass on the news; upon learning the truth of what their parents did, Bart’s pals react in identical fashion – with utter disgust. My own awakening was less dramatic, provided by the BBC in its most benevolent mode. Thanks to my personal Radio Times archive, I can narrow down the day to May 3 1977, when the Beeb’s schools & colleges service screened the first episode of ‘Merry Go Round: Sex Education’.

Hearing words such as penis and vagina in a non-playground context provoked the odd snigger in the little library where we normally viewed less revelatory schools broadcasts, but all my memory can recall from the transmission is film of a baby being born. Back then, of course, fathers – let alone children – were effectively barred from being present at the moment when the latest addition to the family arrived; Frank Spencer’s weird request to attend the birth of Betty’s baby was met with hilarity by the audience viewing ‘Some Mothers Do Ave Em’ in 1973, so seeing this on a schools programme was quite an eye-opener.

I honestly can’t remember if I knew where babies came from at the time I watched ‘Merry Go Round’, but I don’t think it was something I was that curious about. My mum had one when I was five, and I never once asked her how it had ended up in her stomach. Yes, I was aware that women had sex appeal courtesy of the culture, whether Benny Hill, page 3, the ‘naughty cinemas’ in the city centre, or what my dad referred to as the ‘lorry drivers’ magazines’ he sometimes kept stashed in the shed. But I don’t think I equated any of that with babies. Sex itself was merely a rude word associated with tits ‘n’ bums, and being a child in the 70s was sometimes akin to living in a saucy seaside postcard. Other than the naked breasts that caught my prepubescent eye in the Daily Mirror’s comic strip, ‘Garth’, I don’t recall being that interested.

Backtracking to when I began school at the age of four-going-on-five, I’d honestly never heard the word sex. All I was interested in was comics, fantastical monsters, and the nascent Glam Rock scene; one of my earliest school memories is singing my own interpretation of ‘Blockbuster’ with my first bezzy mate in the playground the day after The Sweet had performed it on ‘Top of the Pops’. What did I care about sex education then? Were I undergoing the same process today, I’d find that sex education was part of the infant school curriculum and the mysteries of reproduction wouldn’t be withheld for another four years; they’d apparently be there straight away, alongside learning the rudimentary basics of maths, English or geography. No longer prolonging ‘innocence’ (for want of a better word) may be deemed the sensible approach, but is it the right one?

I don’t know why I had a soft spot for certain girls in my various classes during the years leading up to May 1977, but I would claim them as ‘my girlfriend’ as a consequence; merely causing my embryonic heart to skip a beat was enough justification for the label, even if the unfortunate maidens were unaware of it. I won’t name any of them on the extremely rare off-chance they may stumble upon this post, but they were no more girlfriends of mine than any of the TV Goddesses who had a similar effect on me through this period, whether Susan Dey in ‘The Partridge Family’ or Katy Manning on ‘Doctor Who’. Sorry to use the same word again, but it was all extremely innocent. Sex didn’t come into it. I simply warmed and responded to feminine beauty.

Yesterday, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that sex and ‘relationships’ education will be compulsory in all English schools from the moment schooling begins. Ms Greening said that children will be taught about ‘safe and healthy relationships’ as soon as they are indoctrinated into the system. I have no qualms with children receiving such lessons when they’re on the cusp of puberty and are potentially poised to encounter sexual intimacy; the high teenage pregnancy rates in this country make such knowledge essential if they’re to be reduced. But four-year-olds?

What the hell does a four-year-old know or want to know about ‘safe and healthy relationships’? Most four-year-olds are still prone to going to the toilet in their trousers. They eat their own bogies. They bite their toenails. They think ‘poo’ is the funniest word in the English language. They can barely read or write and don’t know how to tell the time. They’re still working out how the world works, and that doesn’t include ‘safe and healthy relationships’ – or, as described by Russell Hobby, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT – ‘appropriate relationships’. Exactly how is an ‘appropriate relationship’ defined to a four-year-old?

Fair enough, if we’re in the Paedo Park, warn them against talking to strangers; I had that courtesy of ‘Charley Says’ when I was a kid and I also received the same advice from my parents. I didn’t need a union leader to tell me what was appropriate or inappropriate, and being hounded by dirty old men promising puppies hardly constitutes a ‘relationship’ anyway.

Perhaps this is a knee-jerk response to the so-called scourge of internet pornography; but though the theory goes that porn is accessible to any age-group in 2017, porn was equally accessible forty-odd years ago, albeit in different forms. No off-school roam around a playing field or woods was complete in the 70s without stumbling upon a discarded copy of some gentleman’s magazine; generally soft-core, of course, but still highly visible. It maintained its mystique then because we had to wait until we reached the age of nine before the great mystery was unveiled.

I don’t personally believe that, by the time I was old enough to act upon my natural impulses, I’d been held back because I hadn’t been taught about either ‘safe and healthy’ or ‘appropriate’ relationships as a four-year-old. Looking back, it’s nice to think I was spared all that shit for so long.

© The Editor

THOROUGHLY MODERN MINI

mini-2At one time, TV documentaries opened viewers’ eyes to previously-hidden worlds rather than simply reflecting their own prejudices about a particular social demographic back at them. A good example was the award-winning ‘Gale is Dead’ in 1970, which shone an unflattering light on the grim underground subculture of heroin addiction and the tragic demise of an unloved teenage graduate of the children’s home conveyor belt that succumbed to it. Five years later, another programme in a similarly sympathetic vein profiled an eleven-year-old boy from County Durham who was being held at a secure unit for disturbed children on account of him being a prepubescent pyromaniac. Anyone who witnessed the TV debut of Michael ‘Mini’ Cooper would have been instantly aware that here was a remarkably intelligent, sharp, and charismatic young individual that society didn’t know what to do with.

Mini emanated from a working-class background with a God-fearing Irish mother and an archetypal Northern English father who disciplined his children in the way he himself had been disciplined – the parents of Larkin’s ‘This be the Verse’ writ large. His rebellious instincts asserted themselves at an early age, traversing a familiar path of shoplifting and playing truant before settling on the unusual outlet of starting fires; one such fire took place in Mini’s own home which, unbeknownst to him at the time, was occupied by his father. This resulted in him being taken out of a normal school environment and placed in the kind of institution that was a dumping ground for children who kicked against the pricks without knowing why.

Franc Roddam, the director of the 1975 documentary (who later progressed to the likes of ‘Quadrophenia’), had the kind of access to closed-door institutions that would be unimaginable now; he was able to film inside the secure unit Mini was being held at and record the rehabilitation process of the time as it was practiced not just on the programme’s ‘star’, but also the other inmates, whose faces aren’t pixilated. We see the chillingly cold panel that decided Mini’s fate and condemned him to an adolescence under the strictest supervision, keeping him away from the society they regard him as a danger to; and we see the way in which the psychiatric profession used children like Mini as guinea pigs for the latest experimental techniques, without any real care and consideration for how little they would prepare him for release back into the community as an adult.

I first became aware of Mini a decade after his initial television exposure, when the memorable BBC2 documentary strand ‘Forty Minutes’ broadcasted a follow-up film to the 1975 original; in it, we caught up with Mini ten years on, viewing his eleven-year-old self on camera for the first time and struggling to deal with the real world after a lengthy spell being utterly institutionalised by the facsimile society of the care system.

He was making a lonely living as a Butlin’s-style entertainer, performing a magician’s act before bored holiday-makers and trying his best to cope with an environment that the system hadn’t prepared him for. The programme ended on an uncertain note, with the viewer left hoping that Mini would manage to forge a future for himself that would see him finally bury his demons.

We might like to imagine we’ve moved on in the forty-plus years since Mini’s TV debut; but data relating to the children in this country currently being detained whilst another Star Chamber – or ‘Youth Offending Team’ – decides what to do with them suggests not a lot has been learnt in the intervening half-century. There are 10 secure children’s homes in the UK, some of which have held the likes of Mary Bell and the James Bulger killers, Robert Thompson and John Venables. The real problems seem to arise when the children reach 15 and are then eligible to be transferred to a Young Offender Institution. The statistics speak for themselves. Under the old-school Borstal system in the 1930s, the average re-offending rate was around 30%, whereas the modern equivalent is closer to 75%. It doesn’t sound as though its successor is working.

As with the early Nick Broomfield production, ‘Juvenile Liaison Officer’ (made the same year, but deemed too controversial to transmit at the time), the access granted to the director of the original documentary on Mini Cooper – perhaps in an aim to highlight the ‘progressive’ nature of the reformed post-Borstal system – wouldn’t be the same today. Fear of litigation born of this country’s compensation culture and an increasing inclination to cloak so many of our invisible institutions in a veil of secrecy under the guise of security means fewer of us are actually aware of what goes on behind those doors than we were forty years ago.

But these developments imply they have something to hide. The public sector homes don’t wish to expose their management’s inflexible adherence to a rulebook they stick to with fastidious arrogance, regardless of how much damage it might do to those in their care; and the private sector’s natural sense of competition means they don’t want their competitors to take notes when they get it wrong. How can either attitude fill the parents of children in care, let alone society at large, with confidence in the system?

When filmed at eleven, Mini Cooper wasn’t to know he’d eventually be released back into a society he wouldn’t be an active member for years; at that age, each week seems to span a month, and his upset at being informed of the committee’s decision to keep him under lock and key is heartbreaking. His struggles to survive in that society ever since his release hardly suggest the system prepared him for it. He clearly had potential for greatness; that much is evident on-screen. But the fact that society had no defined role for him to slot into, no available means of harnessing his intelligence, is a damning indictment of that society; locking him up until he came of age was a short-term solution leading to a long-term problem.

Thankfully, for Mini Cooper at least, he finally found his niche in life by turning to writing, chronicling his eventful life in the book, ‘Mini and Me’; anyone who has followed his fortunes via the series of follow-up documentaries to the original has been rooting for him all the way, and there is an undeniable pleasure in seeing him succeed at last. But how many Minis didn’t? How many secure unit survivors have been in and out of prison during the same time frame, nabbed as kids and never breaking the cycle, offered nothing more by the system than being another minimum wage drone because rehabilitation as it stands makes the mistake of trying to turn such kids into everything they rebelled against in the first place?

© The Editor

CONSENSUAL HEALING

coca-colaThe profile pictures of columnists in what used to be called the broadsheets are often an accurate pointer to the sanctimonious smugness of the scribe and his or her musings before the reader has even read them. The image of the Grauniad’s socialist-in-residence Owen Jones that appears on the paper’s webpage announcing the sacking of the crafty cockney Eric Bristow from his Sky Sports pundit job matches his pompous declaration that ‘Eric Bristow’s toxic tweets matter. These attitudes silence victims’ – a statement lifted from the piece I couldn’t bring myself to even look at. Like so many in his position who pose as an inquisitor of the consensus, Jones summarily fails to question any of the historical child abuse narrative and accepts it wholly as fact. The irrelevant viewpoint of an ex-darts player is a convenient red herring that gives Jones the green light to release the moral high-horse from his stable instead of addressing the actual issue.

The gruff opinion Eric Bristow tweeted in response to the spate of ex-footballer confessions over the past week or so is precisely what anyone with half-a-brain would expect a man of Bristow’s background and age to tweet; it wasn’t exactly ‘sensitive’, but if I want ‘sensitive’, I put Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ on the turntable, not 2 Live Crew. It is the unvarnished blokeiness of Bristow that has always been at the core of his appeal to those that like him, just as it is with Nigel Farage or Jeremy Clarkson. Maybe he should keep his opinions to his boozing buddies, but isn’t Twitter supposed to be a democratic forum where everybody is entitled to their say, a cyber Speaker’s Corner for the masses? That’s the theory, anyway.

When George Osborne copyrighted the phrase ‘We’re all in this together’ (one he should rightly be tarred with forever), the context in which he intended it to mean anything has been utterly transcended by everything else it can be applied to in this repressive, censorious society populated by timid, obedient schoolchildren masquerading as adults, terrified of being out of step with the rest of the class. Whether online, on campus, in media of both the print and broadcast variety and (especially) in public services, the fear of ostracism and exclusion from the crowd breeds the belief that if we all agree to pre-conditions in how we speak, think and respond then we’ll finally achieve the inclusive Utopia that Coca-Cola once portrayed when it tried to teach the world to sing.

Producing the next generation of consumers that will keep the economy on an even keel is a patriotic duty that opting out of risks vilification from the hypocritical harpies of Mumsnet, whose own concept of unity is rooted in an untruth because no mother dare admit her children have robbed her of her independence and taken away her identity. As someone whose morning routine is soundtracked by Radio 4, this is something I have never heard aired on ‘Woman’s Hour’, and I doubt I ever will. If Eric Bristow can lose his living because he tweeted something ‘offensive’, can you imagine the kind of punishment awaiting a prominent female in the public eye if she admitted she wished she’d never had the children that have become effective parasites draining her of all sense of who she is? Yes, we’re all in this together, none more so than that hotbed of competitive self-deception, motherhood.

Many of you may have read last week’s post, ‘A Social Disservice’, and this is a kind of sequel to that one, even if it might appear I’ve taken a roundabout route to it. But I think so much of the bureaucratic brickwork that the mother of the child I diplomatically referred to as X has come up against in an effort to retrieve a life for herself is mirrored in the wider world. It’s just more pronounced in the arena of social services and the detachment of management level, where patting one’s self on the back and earning Brownie points at dinner parties for proclaiming ‘I work with disabled children’ to an anticipated round of applause is the extent of actual involvement, as far removed from the reality of being cooped-up with a child suffering from extreme autism as WWI generals were from the trenches.

X was collected from four days in the care of the State last Friday and once back in the bosom of the family home reverted to feral type, reminding her mother why she’d deposited her in that care the previous weekend. X’s deterioration over just the last six months has rendered even the limited tricks that could once be used to momentarily occupy her completely redundant. In care, an entire team are employed to reduce X’s appetite for destruction, but the social services expect her mother to do the work of four or five people around the clock, 24/7, subjecting herself to continual assaults of biting, scratching and screaming for all of X’s waking hours. The individual members of staff attending to her in care have been subject to the same treatment, yet have to make excuses for it in order to accentuate the non-existent positivity that their box-ticking training requires.

X’s mother was informed a panel would review her situation at an unspecified future date, a Star Chamber hearing at which she would not be allowed to present her case nor provide the video evidence of X’s behaviour. Instead, an inexperienced social worker who has never even met X in the flesh would be there on her behalf, to submit a report compiled from an interview with X’s mother that (unsurprisingly) wouldn’t suggest any members of that panel take X into their homes for 24 hours to see for themselves precisely what X’s mother has to deal with. This virtual Soviet trial would then decide the future of someone not entitled to attend, with the umpteenth social worker to have dealt with X’s case during her short life being the mother’s proxy representative. This is the kind of farce that forces parents such as X’s mother into taking dramatic action.

The authorities are not accustomed to parents challenging their authority and questioning their wisdom because the parents are usually so mentally and physically browbeaten by the experience of looking after their problem children that they have no energy to fight back. X’s mother knows if she doesn’t take this stand then her life is effectively over. On Sunday, she rang the same emergency number she’d rung the previous weekend and after the phone was answered by a human being, the moment she explained the situation she was immediately transferred to an answer-machine. So staggeringly ineffective are the social services, someone in a similar position even advised X’s mother to dial 999 instead. She didn’t, but she dispatched an email to all parties with a vested interest in her continuing to endure a nightmarish excuse for a life and made it clear she wouldn’t be collecting X from school again on Monday. She stuck to her word and refuses to collect her at the end of the week.

The pressures on X’s mother following her actions, not only from the facsimile togetherness of the mother’s union, but from a system that expects her to fulfil a duty no sane person could stomach for as long as she already has before heading for the nearest bridge, is a consequence of a mindset that demands subservience to a consensus nobody signed-up for. And yet the consensus is there – in the social services, the DWP, the NHS, the police force, the media, online, f***ing everywhere. Oppose it at one’s peril, but for God’s sake oppose it. If you don’t, we’re finished; and the future will be a boot stamping on a human face, forever – although O’Brien neglected to mention it will be a smiley one. After all, we wouldn’t want to frighten the children.

© The Editor

A SOCIAL DISSERVICE

virgin-maryKeeping wild animals as pets is never advisable, though it has been a regular affectation of the wealthy and eccentric; Dickens had a pet raven, Byron had a pet fox, Josephine Baker had a pet leopard, and there was the famous story of Christian, the lion cub purchased from Harrods (!) in the late 1960s by John Rendall and Anthony Burke, who kept the big cat at their home in London for more than a year until the difficulties of the arrangement became insurmountable. Christian was eventually reintroduced to the wild by George and Joy Adamson, the right environment for a creature unsuited to the enclosed spaces of the urban jungle. The feral characteristics of a wild animal whose natural instincts are in conflict with those of their human owners and the living conditions humans favour make such unnatural captivity ill-advised.

Children are supposed to be the antithesis of wild animals in the home, though the place of the most badly-behaved in it is sometimes indistinguishable from wild animals; children are essentially indulged pets for the first few years of their existence – at least until they start school. Many children are now able to get away with a good deal more than their parents could when they were the same age, for the unfashionable implementation of discipline and respect as administered during the childhoods of most reading this post has diminished with each successive generation. The deification of children by the media and its celebrity whores has elevated the mother figure back up to the level of the medieval Virgin Mary and the children themselves to the saintly cherub embodied by Baby Jesus. Any contradiction to the consensus condemns mothers who can’t keep up with the standards set by the Breastapo, whilst the child itself can rule the roost in open denial of its angelic status.

But what if the child is ten-years-old with the mental age of a nine-month-old baby? We all know how useless and essentially boring babies are – wailing, nappy-filling tyrants who can’t even stand on their own two feet – yet imagine what they could do with their limited intelligence were we to transplant their underdeveloped brains into the body of a fully-grown child. Every random thought that entered their head when confronted by the unfamiliar and the new would be something they could physically react to rather than stare and cry at. Chaos would ensue. And that’s precisely what happens with the mercifully-rare extreme autism some unfortunate children are afflicted by at birth – the ten-year-old with the nine-month-old mental age mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. This particular child exists and we shall call her X.

X has profound learning difficulties that are incurable. She has no social skills and her ability to interact with others is severely limited. Her incompatibility with other children means her relationship with her siblings (from whom she is segregated) is minimal. She will never be able to lead a normal life. She cannot speak and can only express herself verbally through the most basic vocal noises. If the day’s routine veers from the pattern X dictates, usually by accident than design, an incendiary tantrum erupts. At such moments, X lashes out at herself and her mother with a fearsome strength that will increase as she grows – biting, scratching, punching and kicking. It is extremely difficult to reason with X or to explain a situation to her. She lacks the mental capacity to process such information and cannot understand why her mother won’t simply drive her around in the car, going nowhere for hours on end.

X puts many non-foodstuffs into her mouth, and is doubly incontinent. She views bodily waste as no different from any other substance. Her sleep does not adhere to any regular pattern. She can wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and expect the day to progress as though it were 8 or 9. X has to be watched every moment of her waking day, placing an exhaustive burden upon her mother; her behaviour and the need to monitor her at all times makes a normal life for her single parent mother impossible and X’s mother has no extended family to call on for support.

Even a relaxing necessity such as eating a meal, watching TV or reading a book uninterrupted, something the rest of us take for granted, is impossible to undertake in X’s presence. X attends a special needs school during term time, with her needs attended to by a team. When the holidays come, however, X’s mother copes alone with occasional support staff. Bereft of her term team, school holidays are a challenge for X and her mother. Changes to X’s routine induce anxiety and upset, increasing incidents of both self-harm and harm inflicted upon those around her. X’s oblivious antisocial behaviour limits the time she can spend outdoors and amongst the public, narrowing her world considerably. Her quality of life is as poor as any able-bodied person could possibly experience.

But, of course, we have our wonderful Welfare State and its social service offshoot to aid and assist mothers of children such as X, don’t we? That unimpeachable gift to the nation that only wicked Tories and right-wing advocates of private healthcare dare to criticise is there to help, no? Think again. Oh, if your idea of a way of helping the mothers of children like X is to throw money at them because it’s cheaper to do that than to entrust the lifetime care of X to the State, fair enough. Overburdened by unnecessary referrals in the fallout from both Savile and Baby P, run along the lines of box-ticking bureaucracy with timid, naive staff trained in rigidly upbeat false positivity that negates common-sense realism, and weighed down by the layers of management that provide its beneficiaries with a comfortable career of paid holiday, pension-guaranteed detachment from the frontline parental war zone, the whole rotten system is the Circumlocution Office turned up to eleven.

This weekend, confronted by a relentless physical assault from a child whose rage is vocally manifested as the kind of screaming that makes a car alarm sound like Beethoven’s Ninth, the sleep-deprived, battered and bruised mother of X removed her earplugs and called the social services to take the wild animal masquerading as her daughter away into permanent care. Nobody rings such a number unless they have reached absolute breaking point, yet the response of the social services confronted by their worst nightmare was to try to dissuade X’s mother; when that failed, she then received a lecture in which the threat of ‘child abandonment’ accusations was implicit. Let the ivory tower-dwelling management Olympians take X into their home for 48 hours and see how they cope. It won’t happen. X’s mother has been astute enough to video X’s rages as evidence, and glass houses are susceptible to stones, after all.

I have been a long-distance recipient of X’s worsening behaviour over the last twelve months, and the fact that she has to sleep within an effective cage in order to prevent her from running away emphasises how unhappy she is with her living arrangements. The physically and mentally drained mother of X has undertaken her maternal duties above and beyond the call of duty, living a life few could possibly picture unless in the same situation. She has done everything humanly possible to appease X’s unimaginable condition, but she has finally arrived at the point of no return. If the social services cannot be there for children such as X, what is the bloody point? And, better still, how the hell can we retain outdated pride in it? If X was an adult in a relationship and had treated her spouse as X had treated her mother, the police would have been involved and there would no doubt have been a high-profile court-case. But a child? No, children don’t do that. They’re angels. And their mothers fail the audition at their peril.

© The Editor

THE GREAT ESCAPE

2016Robert Vaughn, who has died aged 83, was one of the good guys. After becoming a familiar face in a string of movies during the early 60s – most notably the classic western, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ – he ascended to international household name status with his role as Napoleon Solo in the iconic 60s US TV Spy series, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. Running from 1964-68, it capitalised on the success of the Bond movies; Ian Fleming even contributed to the formation of the series, one of the last creative projects he was involved in. Starring alongside expat Brit David McCallum as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin, Vaughn had found a well-paid steady job, yet potentially jeopardised his newfound fame and fortune by being one of the first star names in the States to speak out against American involvement in Vietnam, long before it was fashionable to do so.

The tide of popular opinion regarding Vietnam turned Vaughn’s way in the late 60s and his career wasn’t damaged by his brave stance. He played a memorable part in the legendary Steve McQueen movie ‘Bullitt’, and in the early 70s he decamped to the UK to take the lead role of Harry Rule in the last of the great ITC series, ‘The Protectors’. Co-starring Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, ‘The Protectors’ was produced by Gerry Anderson for Lew Grade’s stable and despite following the flamboyant formula of escapism laid out by the likes of ‘Jason King’ and ‘The Persuaders’, it was fairly unique in its novel use of genuine European locations (rather than the standard ITC stock footage), and boasted one of the best theme tunes of its era in the Tony Christie-sung ‘Avenues and Alleyways’.

Vaughn remained in demand even at a relatively late stage of his career, starring for eight years in the noughties BBC series ‘Hustle’ and even appearing in ‘Coronation Street’ shortly afterwards. His death, announced the same day as that of Leonard Cohen (the two were born just a couple of years apart) is one more to add to a depressingly lengthening list this year, one more individual who I never personally met but whose earlier work impinged upon my consciousness, leaving residue that continues to provide curious comfort in ways that I can’t seem to find elsewhere.

Although not able to access the likes of Netflix myself, I have friends who can and who are kind enough to download the best of contemporary television such as ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Broad City’ onto memory sticks that enable me to tune into the kind of shows mainstream TV has opted out of. I like them a lot, but the majority of my leisure viewing time tends to drift towards television featuring actors who are dead and grace my screen like the cathode ray ghosts they now are. There’s something about archive TV that has an extra magical element woven into it, something the new naturally cannot possess. I suspect it’s the association with the world we inhabited as children or the mystique of the one before we were born, a world we will never inhabit again, but one we can partially revisit by peering through a two-dimensional window. Quite why doing so serves as a visual narcotic in a different century with a different agenda is a strange symptom of this day and age; but it works.

It could be ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ or it could be ‘Man About the House’; it could be ‘The Onedin Line’ or it could be ‘Crown Court’. It’s an ident of a long-gone ITV company, a theme tune, an opening title sequence, a pair of sideburns, a pair of Cuban-heeled boots, a street bereft of parked cars, shop windows with £sd currency emblazoned on the special offer stickers stuck to the panes (or decimal currency with ½p included); it’s also audio – the warm dulcet tones of a Wogan or a Young or even a Bates; it’s unearthed off-air recordings of late night Radio 2 programmes from 1973, with easy listening instrumentals played by the BBC Midlands Light Orchestra direct from Pebble Mill in Birmingham; and that then evokes a now-demolished building whose foyer hosted a lunchtime TV show with avuncular friendly faces like Donny MacLeod, and you remember being sick off school and you can taste the Lucozade as you wait for ‘Mary, Mungo and Midge’. It’s a multitude of Madeleine Moments for the disillusioned and dejected, adrift in a 24-hour sound-bite of fast-food for the head that leaves it cold and empty.

The DVD has been incorporated into the escape pod once reserved for cannabis, alcohol, amphetamines, acid, ecstasy and simple straightforward sleep; and like all of them, it is transitory and temporary. But it keeps me from punching people who deserve it – and those c***s know who they are. I’m not talking about public figures, but nonentities who will never amount to anything due to their crippling mediocrity. They make the lives of those I love miserable, and while my c***s may not be your c***s, we all have them and we all want to unleash our rage upon them. But we don’t. We escape. We preserve our liberty that way and are not incarcerated in the prisons of the state, merely those of our own minds. So, RIP Robert Vaughn and everybody else dead and gone who played a part in something that helps me unwind and escape. You will never know of the service you continue to provide.

© The Editor

ALONE AGAIN (NATURALLY)

home-aloneAs if Michael Gove’s copybook wasn’t blotted enough via his perennial blunders as a Minister, not to mention his shameful, backstabbing bid for power in the aftermath of Cameron’s Brexit exit, he’s excelled himself now; he and his wife Sarah Vine – one of many Fleet Street columnists whose profile picture tells a thousand stories about the wonders of airbrushing – have committed a social and moral crime that conjures up horrific images in the minds of millions, images that will be hard to extinguish once they’ve appeared. I know it’s a gruesome thought, but it has to be said: Mr and Mrs Gove are party animals.

The one-time Prime Ministerial hopeful and his missus attended a function for SIX hours, one that would have involved drinking and dancing. If you can, just picture the scene. Not nice, is it? Oh, and while they were doing this, they left their 11-year-old son at the hotel they happened to be stopping at. I don’t know about you, but I think the 11-year-old being spared the sight of his mum and dad gettin’ jiggy to the strains of ‘Blurred Lines’ shows remarkably benign concern on the part of his parents.

The Goves apparently informed hotel staff they’d be back by 9.30pm and didn’t return till 1.30am; according to the Sunday Mirror, which broke the story, a concerned night porter found Gove Junior ‘wandering the corridors, asking where his parents were’. The image of the borderline-teenage son of a former Cabinet Minister checking with a porter at a £250-a-night Cheltenham hotel in order that he could delete his evening’s browsing history before his parents got back is one that evokes the worst kind of Dickensian poverty and is indeed a damning indictment on modern society. No wonder the country is up in arms at this latest act of despicable behaviour by the intellectual darling of the Notting Hill Tories.

As I suspect most reading this were, like me, raised by parents who regarded helicopters as necessary tools of air forces and rescue services as well as the playboy playthings of 70s Radio 1 DJs, the ‘shocking revelations’ courtesy of the Sunday Mirror will probably provoke little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

On my one and only trip to Spain when I was a few months away from making it to the age of eleven, my own parents ‘deserted’ my six-year-old brother and me for probably the same number of hours as the Goves abandoned their son in order that they could attend one of those do’s that came with the obligatory monochrome photo of a Spanish waiter pouring cheap plonk into said parents’ mouths from odd-shaped bottles.

I recall we relished the freedom to roam a hotel free from parental eyes; we only wandered the corridors in the sense that we enacted scenes from ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘The Professionals’. We were left a bit of cash so we could scoff crisps, drink pop and play on the pinball machines. I remember it as the highlight of the holiday.

Post-McCann, of course, parents leaving their children alone for more than a minute means they are failing in their duties and breaking the sacred code of modern parenting. That Gove Junior had been left behind to look after the family pooches actually shows his mater and pater to be responsible dog-owners, but even that admirable gesture will be swept aside in the chorus of condemnation by professional parents within media circles as their avowed aim to infantilise their offspring even when they’re on the cusp of adolescence is challenged. Again, I cannot help but think back to my own formative years and how many times I found myself home alone.

‘Don’t open the door to anyone while I’m gone’ was the extent of the advice issued by my grandma as she prepared to depart for her bingo night with her friend Jean. My granddad was at the pub, but even at the age of eight, I was deemed sensible enough to be left in their house for a few hours on my own during my regular school holiday stays there. My grandma wasn’t going to surrender her weekly outing just because I happened to be present, and my granddad wasn’t going to do likewise re the local hostelry. I had complete control of the TV set in their absence, which itself was a rare treat when I’d become accustomed to my father strolling into our living room at home and abruptly switching off whatever children’s programme I’d been watching so that he could catch the end of the cricket.

I wasn’t ‘abandoned’ or ‘neglected’ by my grandparents; they didn’t chain me to a piss-soaked bed in the cellar while they pursued their usual socialising. They saw nothing wrong in trusting an eight-year-old to be left in their house of an evening, confident he wouldn’t scream the place down or phone the police, and they were right to do so. I loved it. It made me feel grown-up.

A couple of years later, when my parents were both working well beyond the time school closed for the day, it would be my responsibility to collect my younger brother from the infants school opposite my own and take him home (a spare key was obviously required for me to enter the premises); it would probably be an hour or so before my mother was the first parent to arrive back, and neither she nor I thought the arrangement a sign of parental neglect because it wasn’t.

Three or four years before that arrangement was established, my parents would occasionally pop over to another house on the street and spend a few hours with neighbours whilst my brother slept on oblivious and I was allowed to read in bed; they saw this as perfectly reasonable parenting, and I can see now that being given a small sense of self-sufficient independence at a young age helps to stretch the apron strings so that they eventually snap of their own accord at the correct time.

Deeply unfashionable opinion it may well be in this age of cotton wool mollycoddling, but continue to treat children as though they were three or four-years-old when they’re into double figures by denying them both time to themselves and some form of responsibility will leave them utterly unprepared for standing on their own two feet, not to mention being utterly incapable of being able to cope with their own company. But if adolescence has now been expanded well into one’s 20s, I suppose it is logical that childhood is expanded well into one’s adolescence. Yet again, it would seem Michael Gove is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

© The Editor

NO COUNTRY FOR SQUARE PEGS

wilf-lunnWhen people speak of the Great British Eccentric being a dying breed, most of the examples given of the species do tend to be over a certain age – 50, at least. Granted, there are a few defiant exceptions (certainly in terms of dress, someone like Paloma Faith, perhaps), though the famous names that spring to mind are usually past their half-century. I think the claims of the species bordering on extinction aren’t too far-fetched in that it’s hard to foresee another generation spawning any. It isn’t just the large-scale homogenisation of genuine individual thought and/or appearance within society that could be held responsible, nor the fact that every suspected ‘Paedo’ exposed by the press is painted as ‘a bit weird’ because he doesn’t adhere to an imposed dress-code (thus marking out sartorial originality as totally toxic); but when any potential eccentricities surface in children today parents, teachers and doctors alike are a tad too quick to diagnose a ‘syndrome’.

You may or may not have heard of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, but that is the tag that has now been attached to children who misbehave – yes, fancy that! Children misbehaving and refusing to do as they’re told! What an uncharacteristic behavioural trait! Children doing what children have always done can no longer be just that; there has to be a medical condition to cover all eventualities that can be tamed with both medication and counselling.

The feminisation of our leading institutions, along with the box-ticking bureaucracy that negates common sense, seems determined to prevent little boys in particular from being little boys. There is also the plethora of self-help ‘how to be a perfect parent’ publications, an entire literary industry that has had a pernicious influence on the attitude towards children and remains in perpetual denial of the fact that some of them are strange little bastards.

Ever since the recognition of dyslexia as something to be distinguished from basic stupidity, there has been a conscious rush to judgement on classic childhood symptoms that veer from the desired ordinariness that is a by-product of perfection. All the numerous minor strands of autism are examples of this, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is another that has now become utterly accepted as a bona-fide syndrome, a condition that is hastily diagnosed and in many cases treated with a course of medication. In recent years, the transgender issue has also reared its head, especially amongst right-on parents who seize upon any indication of effeminacy in their little boy as a sign his ‘true’ sexuality must be determined by them before he’s even hit puberty.

The dangerous fad for labelling every aspect of a child’s natural behaviour a syndrome is a panicky response when so many are afraid of standing out from the crowd and expressing any notion of individuality that contradicts the consensus. The ghastly competitiveness of parents that rests on one-upmanship faces a severe threat if their little angel is exhibiting any signs of being ‘different’, so a convenient pigeonhole that is accepted as a syndrome by the teaching and medical profession is an easy solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

Like most of us, I grew up around many children who displayed personal eccentricities that would now probably have a ready-made diagnosis on hand. One girl I was at primary school with used to bite her toenails. I wonder what that would be categorised as today? Keratin Carnivore Disorder? And I suspect we all knew one or two who would eat their own bogies. Mucus Consumption Disorder? Keeping children on a tight leash and denying them the freedom to express themselves through the kind of behaviour adults aren’t able to get away with is a modern trend that only has a few caveats, such as when it comes to ‘artistic’ expression – which basically amounts to those bloody awful pictures proud parents stick on their fridges as a sign of what creative geniuses they’ve spawned.

But genuine creativity often goes hand-in-hand with unconventional outlooks and attitudes that are commonplace amongst children and rare amongst adults; the adults that retain them are ones that resisted having them drilled out by the educational system. It must be harder than ever to uphold such resistance and be a little Winston Smith today, however.

Not only does one have to risk being diagnosed with a syndrome and being forcibly drugged to wash the nasty thoughts away, but there is also the league table-obsessed educational system itself, which like all institutions – whether the NHS, DWP, police force or legal profession – has become a training camp for the appliance of politically-correct robotic responses in which impromptu personal judgment not listed in the script has no place. The fear of litigation or ostracism enables such Orwellian Ministry systems to flourish unimpeded by common sense and ideas that risk being labelled that most dreaded of contemporary ailments, eccentric.

That each new crop of recruits to these institutions now instinctively follow the rulebook to the letter of the law (and probably had early resistance suppressed by a syndrome diagnosis and accompanying medication) means the likelihood of the Circumlocution Offices the institutions have gradually evolved into ever reverting to what they were before virtually zilch. Anyone at the frontline of having to deal with said institutions will know what an uphill struggle it is to make representatives of them understand that everything they’ve had programmed into them is counterproductive to an actual result. Add the inherent conservatism of social media as a further tool for falling into line and it would seem any future eccentrics that are lucky enough to slip through the net will be few and far between. And our society will be all the poorer for their absence.

© The Editor

CHILDREN’S TELEVISION

TVForty years ago this month, these unprepared isles were poised to be scorched by the most severe dry spell for over two centuries; yes, I’m old enough to recall the very long hot summer, the heat wave, the drought, the curbs on hosepipes and the ‘Save It’ logo; but I was also busily keeping my imagination occupied. June 1976 saw the arrival of a new television station, though nobody but me knows that because it was mine and mine alone. In contrast to the apocalyptic tone of the previous post, I beg your indulgence to dip into a little optimism characteristic of a time when children employed their minds as stimulation because there were no electronic gadgets to do so on their behalf.

I had toy soldiers and other such well-worn tools at my disposal as an eight-year-old and had, like most children, engaged in my own mini-movies with them for as far back as I could remember. For some reason in 1976, however, I decided to put every piece of play under one televisual umbrella; and thus was born what I called FTV, which stood for Fantastic TeleVision. I had chosen wisely when it came to names, for the programmes produced by FTV were…well, quite fantastic, if I do say so myself.

As soon as I hatched the idea, I began to make a listings magazine for the company, one that was naturally called FTV Times. A slim weekly with the most amount of effort usually lavished on its eye-catching front cover, FTV Times covered the output of the station with minimal information. Interestingly from today’s 24-hour television perspective, FTV’s schedule didn’t adhere to what were the scheduling norms of the time, with its mornings and afternoons clogged with the kind of programmes that, had I known back then, any TV channel with half-a-brain would have reserved for prime-time evening slots. I guess it reflects the easily-forgotten realities of having to go to bed at a fixed hour every night and usually being denied exposure to shows worth watching, such as (for example) ‘The Sweeney’.

Looking back, many of the programmes produced by FTV were rooted in the fantasy-based adventures little boys tend to favour. Had it been real, I suppose its schedule would have consisted of ITC-type output with a little bit of contemporary US cop shows thrown in for good measure, as well as a healthy dose of Gerry Anderson OTT excitement. Drama, uniformly action-packed, was paramount.

There was a series called ‘Airport’ that essentially consisted of a massive air crash every episode; there was one called ‘The Three Knights’, which was set in an Arthurian England and actually starred four men in armour, though the fourth was the villain of the piece; there was a series called ‘Destination’, so called (I suspect) because I liked the word. As far as I can remember, it followed the adventures of ‘the Highway Patrol’; there was ‘The Demolishers’, which may sound like some Channel 5 docusoap featuring chirpy cockney employees of a demolition firm, but was very much in the ‘Persuaders/Protectors’ vein. Again, merely a word I liked. ‘Robot Shark’ cashed in on the success of both ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and existed merely because I had a rubber shark. Many of these shows were opportunistic in a very Roger Corman fashion; whatever I had on hand, I turned it into a series.

They weren’t all studio (i.e. bedroom) based, either; the garden could be a handy location, especially for ‘The Forbidden Land’, in which a fugitive from some top-secret government lab attempted to evade capture on the run through a post-Armageddon landscape evidently inspired by the Forbidden Zone in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies. I admit I did have a problem with ‘female representation’, however; not having a sister meant there were no dolls in the house, so I had to make do with the odd ornament belonging to my mother when her back was turned. That might explain why every female character in an FTV drama dressed like she’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen adaptation. Everything was transmitted live as well, just as it had been in the early days of real television; from the end of 1977 onwards, I could at least make audio recordings of FTV programmes, though few have survived.

FTV’s output also extended to play that didn’t involve toys. If I had a kick-about with pals, that became FTV’s equivalent of ‘Match of the Day’; if we decided we were going to have a race either on foot or on bikes, that too was a sporting event covered by the cameras of FTV. There was also entertainment on offer – a Saturday evening game show called ‘Quiz Corner’ (same presenter/contestant every week: me and my brother); there was a sitcom which again consisted of me and my brother; and there was a regular music show hosted by the guitar-strumming Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’ because (you guessed it) I had a model of Dylan from ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Also, for some bizarre reason, the main news was on at 2.00 in the afternoon.

Although a short attention span meant FTV Times wasn’t necessarily published (or drawn) every week (generally putting it together when I felt like it), the name of the company survived until I hit puberty and then it all suddenly seemed a bit infantile. It’s sad when you let go, but you have to in the end. Still, I can at least look back with a smile at that enterprising mini-me and wonder why he didn’t do as much with his adult life as he crammed into the life he lived before it. Having said that, perhaps the spirit of FTV lives on, merely in a different guise…

DAVE SWARBRICK (1941-2016)

SwarbAccording to the Daily Telegraph, which infamously published his premature obituary in 1999, Dave Swarbrick has spent the last seventeen years as a member of the living dead. Alas, the obituaries appearing in Saturday’s newspapers will not be embarrassing accidents. The demon fiddler really has met his maker now. The man known affectionately in the Folk circles he bestrode for half-a-century as ‘Swarb’ died for real yesterday after a remarkable career stretching all the way back to the earnest fingers-in-the-ear founding fathers of the British Folk scene, Ewan MacColl and Ian Campbell. He had already attained legendary status before his association with Fairport Convention began, cementing his reputation as a compellingly charismatic fiddle player alongside the rising star of British Folk in the 60s, Martin Carthy.

After meandering on the periphery of London’s Psychedelic underground as a kind of British Jefferson Airplane, Fairport Convention recruited Swarb as a session man to add an authentic Folk feel to their new line-up headed by Sandy Denny, who had cut her teeth on the same circuit as the fiddler whose expertise added such dynamic flair to the band’s sound that his presence became permanent. It was the invigorating combination of Swarb and Denny, along with guitarist and blossoming songwriter Richard Thompson, that guided Fairport towards the groundbreaking blend of Rock and Folk that reached its zenith with the seminal album, ‘Liege and Lief’ in 1969. Swarb wielded the electric violin like a gunfighter; it swoops and dives through the songs on that LP, duelling with Thompson’s guitar in the musical equivalent of a dogfight between a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt. It was a wholly unique sound perhaps destined to live fast and die young, for both Denny and Thompson departed not long after, though Swarb stayed put.

He remained in demand as a guest embellisher on the solo albums of his ex-bandmates as well as numerous other performers inspired by the classic Fairport line-up, but life on the road with Fairport took its toll on his health over the years. Swarbrick suffered from emphysema, but after a successful double lung transplant in 2004, he resumed his career and was working constantly up until his death at the age of 75. Dave Swarbrick really was one of those musicians who would play till they dropped, and in his case, he kept playing even after he dropped – seventeen years after. That takes some beating.

© The Editor

GOODBYE SAM, HELLO SAMANTHA

DragI’ve spoken before of pushy parents projecting their failed ambitions upon the vanity projects they call children, of vicariously living thwarted dreams through offspring, regardless of how unfair a burden it is for that offspring to carry. I’m not speaking of it again, though certain aspects of a new odious development remind me of it. This is parents picking up on a particular personality trait in their mini-me’s and coming up with a psychological diagnosis that ticks the PC boxes and enables them to advertise their right-on credentials by using their children as a sandwich board. I’m talking about parents who come to the decision that any characteristics of the opposite sex displayed by the kids evidently means the kids are gender-dysphorian, non-binary, tiny tot trannies.

I used to go to school with children, so I can recall what they were like. There were always boys who were routinely called ‘cissies’, the ones who appeared to have no male friends in the playground and always hung out with the girls, doing as the girls did; moreover, there were always girls who rejected girlishness and preferred the rough ‘n’ tumble of male company. The Nancy Boy and the Tom Boy are enshrined as archetypes in British pop culture, from Dennis the Menace’s effeminate nemesis, Walter the Softy to ‘George’, Enid Blyton’s butch little ball-breaker in ‘The Famous Five’. Both were defiant aberrations, going against the stereotypical grain; both may have grown up to be gay. But being in closer contact with their respective feminine and masculine sides than the majority of their contemporaries didn’t necessarily mean either wanted to eventually assume the full gender reassignment process. They were unselfconsciously taking a stance against what society defined as masculine or feminine.

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I’ve always been ‘in touch with my feminine side’, nor should I be. I’ve always believed a man who aggressively fights it is half-a-man, in denial of what is a biological truth. When that femininity is manifested as visual flourishes of a kind that an overtly masculine male culture reacts to with hostility, it’s not the easiest brand of honesty to embrace; but to volunteer for a two-dimensional testosterone straitjacket is not in my nature, and I’d be less of a man if it was. Any past problems I may have had with being a man were, I can now see, a direct consequence of being presented with such a limited portrait of the sex. The hair is short, the clothes are colourless, the drink is beer, the passion is sport, the libido is triggered by the Page 3 Girl; and any deviation from the rulebook is precisely that – deviation. But as I instinctively reject imposed rulebooks in other aspects of life, why should gender be any different?

Ironically, the haste with which some misguided parents are now prepared to redefine their sons as daughters (and vice-versa) at the slightest hint of a preference for aping the opposite sex plays straight into the hands of the narrow male/female stereotypes they smugly imagine they’re challenging. Little Sam prefers to play with the girls and their dolls, therefore that must mean he’s a girl trapped in a boy’s body; we must start calling him Samantha and send him to school in a skirt next term while letting his hair grow long; that, after all, is the extent of what a girl is, isn’t it? If we swap one set of gender clichés for another, then everyone will then know he’s a girl. No shades of grey there, just black-and-white boys and girls where there is no room for the Nancy Boy or the Tom Boy, those genuine rebels.

Girls and boys pass through numerous phases as they grow-up; that’s what growing-up is about. I changed the comics I read on a virtually monthly basis; one week I was in love with Joanna Lumley in ‘The New Avengers’; the next, I was in love with Jaclyn Smith from ‘Charlie’s Angels’. My female cousin’s bedroom wall had a different pin-up staring down at me every time I visited. ‘I thought you liked David Cassidy?’ ‘No, I like David Essex.’ The first song I apparently proclaimed to be my No.1 ‘Desert Island Disc’ was ‘Yellow River’ by Christie; 46 years later, I can honestly say I’ve never cared for it since it was a chart-topper in the summer of 1970. Anyone with anything about them experiences life as a permanent state of metamorphosis, changing opinions on subjects every ten years or so; a great deal of what I thought at 18 I now consider bollocks – and it’s only right I should. The concept of development being frozen at any age is a particularly horrific one for me, let alone life choices being set in stone by parents when still a child and some distance from even puberty, let alone adulthood.

Gender identity is an especially delicate area of a child’s life for parents to play with, far more serious than them mapping out their child’s career or drilling a religious belief, a forced dedication to a musical instrument or a specific sport into them. More than anything, it is something the child needs to formulate when it has experienced a little bit of what life has to offer beyond the nursery or the playground, when it actually ceases to be a child and can be classified as an adult. There’s nothing wrong with a boy finding more affinity with girls or a girl finding more affinity with boys; by surmising this implies a desire to actually become that which the child has an affinity with is to expose a parent’s own limited awareness of the rich variety of what being a boy or a girl actually has the potential to encompass.

© The Editor

PLAYGROUND POLITICS

50s-kidsSome days I was Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest; the day I leapt from a tree I was Tarzan; I don’t ever remember the Lord of the Jungle limping away from a landing like I did that day, but I tried my best not to show it; my foot was killing me, though my cousin whose appearance from a distance provoked the flight from the branch had no inkling of this fact. Boys don’t cry. Another day, I was the Six Million Dollar Man, engaging in one more bionic jump from a great height, this time the platform held up by scaffolding on the first floor of a partially built house on my parents’ new estate; I hit a mountain of what I reckoned was sand (though it was probably unmixed concrete) and bust my lip. Again, I soldiered on through the pain barrier because that’s the way things were.

At school, when an audience for death-defying feats was all-but guaranteed, the pressure not to revert to a cry baby was even greater. Children see everything placed before them as a challenge to be conquered and, left to their own devices, they test the limits of their physical and mental strength, preparing them for far greater challenges poised to come their way in the future, when climbing frames and fisticuffs are superseded by less simplistic solutions to a problem. To use a frightfully old-fashioned term, such obstacles and how one handles them are ‘character-building’. It’s as necessary a part of learning what it is to be human as picking up language from the adults surrounding us as we gaze out of our cribs, absorbing the ambience at the beginning of life’s learning curve. Put the brakes on any of these formative educational elements and one risks raising an inept generation scared of their own shadows and incapable of independent thought, let alone taking a risk. Perhaps that’s part of the plan.

A couple of weeks after it was announced by one school that they were encouraging a form of rugby during games lessons that excluded tackling, it was announced by another this week that they had banned that traditional playground pastime, tig. Reminiscent of the conkers-with-goggles concept pioneered by another school built from cotton wool a few years back, these latest curbs on the right of children to experience the rough & tumble chime with the general frowning upon notions of competition. We all participated in sports days, even those of us not of a sporty bent; my best performance was coming third in the 1974 sack race. I got a little certificate, but my final position was clearly marked upon it. Everyone wasn’t a winner because that’s life. Where would the Olympics be if every athlete to take part in an event was awarded gold?

How the teaching profession expects 16-17-year-olds to emerge from education capable of competing for jobs is beyond me. They will leave school utterly unequipped to deal with rejection, whereas those of us who were the last to be picked for the football team learnt that lesson early on – which is how it should be. The ramifications of shielding children from the harsh realities of the big bad world is evident now in the foot-stamping students who cannot accept an opinion that contradicts their own and therefore require safe spaces to suck their thumbs. This isn’t what mummy and daddy told them life outside of school would be like, for mummy and daddy are as complicit in their children’s arrested development as the teaching staff advised to treat all their charges as though they belonged to a world coloured in the same reassuring shades as a Ladybird book.

No one is suggesting the ideal model for modern schooling should be Dotheboys Hall from ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, with spank-happy Wackford Squeers laying down the law, nor are they suggesting children should spend their childhoods being repeatedly told they’re useless and will never amount to anything. But like so many areas of twenty-first century life (particularly Law), the balance has been tilted from one extreme to another, bypassing the middle ground whereby some form of realistic equilibrium can be achieved. Removing physical contact between children, whether on the rugby pitch or in the playground, is not preparing them for life outside of the school gates anymore than pretending everyone they meet there will have the cheery constitution of Rod, Jane and Freddie.

I sometimes feel as though all activities in school today must be preceded by a warning akin to those issued by BBC announcers: ‘We’d like to warn pupils that the following lesson contains scenes of grazed knees and scuffed shoes’, with an accompanying helpline to ring at the end, just in case some kids were traumatised by the experience of playing. If children are made of china rather than flesh-and-blood, why not take a leaf out of the country that produced such pottery and bind their feet before they can walk – or better still, bind their entire bodies? Each able-bodied child could also be provided with a mobility-scooter to preclude the prospect of injury, perhaps with a drip attached that can pump breast-milk into their delicate frames.

The only adults that jump from trees or buildings are those who indulge in it as a hobby – the so-called ‘dangerous sports’ brigade, addicted to keeping their adrenalin pumping; most avoid doing so because they did all that as kids, which is when it should be done. Deny kids that necessity and you deny them a brief and vital episode of fun before their absorption into the machine that renders them commodities and financial investments for parents, management and government. Mind you, if they have too much fun they might begin to question the system lying in wait for them, and we can’t have that.

© The Editor