Poor Little Frankie
When my son Joe was growing up we lived next door to an
illustrator of children's books and his family: his wife and their eight-year
old son Frankie.
She was a Buddhist and we used to hear her chanting in the morning. It was hard to make out the words through the breakfast room wall. The tone, however, was like an hysterical vacuum-cleaner on hormone-replacement therapy, and the words sounded, to our uneducated ears, like "a-hole-in-yer-bum, a-hole-in-yer-bum, a-hole-in-yer-bum," repeated endlessly, over and over again.
They were a very right-on New Age family. Wholefood-eating vegetarians, pacifist, ecologically-minded. Little Frankie went to Steiner school.
Which is all well-and-good, you might say. Nothing wrong with child-centred education and "honouring the child", except that - deliberately or not - the whole thing was actually really cruel.
For instance, Frankie was made to wear backless clogs.
Backless clogs! On an eight-year old!
Have you ever tried to run in backless clogs? And isn't this exactly what an eight-year old is supposed to do: to run, in the sheer exuberance of his existence, for the joy of being alive? It was like he was being deliberately crippled.
Poor little Frankie.
It was the same with the wholefood diet. What child do you know who likes brown rice and lentils? Joe always got exactly what he wanted. At least that way he got food into his mouth. He liked fish-fingers and chips. He liked bacon and eggs.
One day Frankie came round to play while Joe was eating his breakfast. Bacon and eggs and beans with a round of crusty white bread smothered in butter. And you could see it in Frankie's eyes. His pupils were dilating. He couldn't keep his eyes off the food. He was just staring and staring at the food on the plate and at Joe as he was eating it. And then he was salivating, really salivating. The drool was dribbling from his mouth and over his chin. Great globules of spit dripping down over his chest, soaking into the bib-front of his multi-coloured dungarees.
Poor little Frankie. I would have loved to have given him a delicious plate of bacon and eggs too, only, of course, you cannot interfere.
He was also not allowed to play with guns. You name me a boy-child who does not like to play with guns. I won't go into the Freudian implications of this, except to say that it is perfectly healthy.
Almost anything can become a gun.
One day Frankie was round our house again, playing in the back garden. He had a stick, and he was making "dat-dat-dat" noises with his mouth, aiming the improvised "gun" at the washing pole.
"What are you shooting at Frankie?" I asked him.
"I'm shooting my mum," he said, tottering on his backless clogs. "I've tied her up to the pole and I'm killing her. Dat-dat-dat. Dat-dat-dat. Drrrrrr. Ka-pow!"
Poor little Frankie. I had to laugh though. At least he was getting his revenge.
Sometimes I wonder what became of Frankie. The family only stayed next-door to us for a year or two. I expect he's a arms-trading psychopath by now, with a passion for raw meat. I only hope he is not cruel to his own children.
But it makes you wonder, doesn't it? The things we do to our kids.
It's one of the terrible consequences of the liberal sixties, that people stopped trying to grow up. They became obsessed with their own spiritual path to personal enlightenment and refused to accept the burden of responsibility for their own children. Discipline was a dirty word. Kids were meant to develop "naturally", according to some sacred inner law of their being. Instead of which - and I've seen this - they just went feral.
I think I understood this at a relatively early point. I went to a Divine Light mission once, at the invitation of a friend of mine who had joined the sect. This was in the early '70s. It was in a large hall in Acton. Everyone was milling around with beaming smiles of bliss on their newly-enlightened faces, while the kids just ran around and played. No one was paying any attention to the kids.
One of them came up to me. He did that trick - you know: he pointed to my chest and said, "what's that", and I looked and he brought his hand sharply up to my nose, and then laughed brattishly.
Well I was a stranger. What could I do? I wanted to clip him round the ear, but it was not up to me to discipline the child. Meanwhile, his parents were somewhere else, hugging each other, no doubt, and looking lovingly into each-other's eyes.
But actually kids love discipline. They need discipline. Watch a lioness with her cubs when one of them is annoying her. She will cuff it round the ear, in exactly the way I wished the parents of that child would do, just to teach him respect for his elders.
Which is how, at least, I brought my son up.