Of little boys and other kinds of beastliness

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The Independent Culture
Pederasts? Known lots of them. Humberts and nympholepts too, probably. But I wouldn't have noticed them; or, rather, they wouldn't have noticed me. Mine were the small-boy sort. There was the scout leader we were all a bit suspicious of. Kept himself trim, lived with his mother, couldn't wait for camp. Chucked one chap out for tattooing one of the girl guides with a cross-nibbed dip pen. "Property of Michael Bywater", or something like that; I can't remember who it was. May have been me.

Then there was the PE master. Had a plimsoll called Little Willy. Any defalcations, real or imaginary, and out would come Little Willy, thwack thwack thwack, interspersed with buttock-fondlings, hand-up-the-gym-shorts business and such-like. Ugly boys could get away with murder. No Little Willy for them. We didn't particularly mind. It was just yet another way in which adults could be boring. Organists, too; one after another; even when they weren't pederasts, you knew they were pederasts, because that's what organists were: pederasts. I was an organist. Rather good at it. Thought of making it my profession but things stood in my way. Didn't fancy spending the rest of my life hanging around churches, living in a grace-and-favour flat next to the vicarage, subsisting on fried eggs and fig rolls. But the main thing was women. I liked women. Not cissy schoolgirl ones who said "I love you. How could you? Ugh. Ugh. No," but older, disenchanted, riveting ones with difficult underwear who would tell you their fantasies. "So then the cruel gynaecologist snaps on his latex gloves..."

One of my best friends at university was a pederast. He brought a new acquaintance round one day for toast. "This is Abrawang. Abrawang is a pederast." "Are you, Abrawang?" "Yes." They had met in the University Library, piling up bound copies of The Times. Eight volumes could bring the average undergraduate's eye-line up to the level of the window overlooking the field where the choirboys of King's College School played football. My friend is a well-known journalist now. A devoted family man. Abrawang, last I heard of him, was in America, a computer executive on his fourth marriage.

I am wholly convinced that none of these pederasts and paedophiles actually did anything about their compulsions; just as I am convinced that their - to me - strange and unrewarding desires are infinitely less egregious than is commonly supposed. I am also certain that their curious inclinations were somehow instinctive; and thank goodness for that, because we would otherwise be in tremendous difficulties.

This is where we have to hold our noses and contemplate the spectacle of the Rantzen Tendency in full cry. Everyone knows by now that the Hayward Gallery has withdrawn, from its exhibition of photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, a picture of a three-year-old girl, Rosie, variously described by Esther Rantzen as "obscene", by Esther Rantzen as "horrific", by Esther Rantzen as "exploitative", by our sister newspaper as "of a naked three-year-old girl sitting with her legs open", and by Esther Rantzen as "pornographic".

Well; I don't know what you're imagining here, but I have seen the photograph - it's reproduced in the exhibition catalogue - and what it shows is a small girl sitting on some steps, wearing a summer frock and nothing else. Her legs are no more open or closed than any other small girl in her own garden in summer, and the only cause for complaint among the inveterately prurient is that part of Rosie's pudendum is visible.

Such horror! Such obscenity, such pornographic exploitation! Such visions as exist almost exclusively in the boiling minds of those whose moral outrage is a rickety structure, guyed up with sentimentality and disapprobation, poised precariously above the seething pit of their own private hell of lubricity.

Why do we believe that only beauty is in the eye of the beholder, when horror, obscenity, pornography and exploitation make their homes there too? I wish I could show you the Rosie picture instead of my own mug-shot here, but I can't. The Mapplethorpe Estate is jittery and wouldn't have it. You cannot therefore see what the fuss is about. You cannot decide for yourselves. Esther Rantzen, the police and the lawyers (consulted in advance by the Hayward) have decided for you. The picture might excite passing wet-lipped paedophiles; and so you may not see it.

I've been brooding about this, and I have decided that Esther is right. In fact, the only thing I can find to say against her is that she doesn't take things far enough. A civilised country must do all it can to stamp out the menace of paedophilia, and until every last corner where it might take root has been fumigated with right-mindedness, none of us will be able to look ourselves in the eye.

So we must at once ban the scouts. We must disband all church choirs; abolish schools for those beneath the age of consent; outlaw the taking of any photographs of children whatever (for paedophilia is inflamed more by the image of youth than by the display of pudenda). We must outlaw the practice of paediatrics, except by women; close down children's television where children appear on screen; segregate children and adults on our beaches and in our swimming-baths; outlaw the sale of sweets and puppies, which might be used to tempt children into filthy molesters' lairs; ensure that, under pain of death, no man ever has contact with any child, except at the moment of conception; and ban Esther Rantzen's Child Helpline forthwith, as its very existence must be a source of excitement and fantastical imaginings to paedophiliacs.

The alternative is that we all calm down, use our intelligence, restore our sense of proportion, and grow up. But where's the opportunity for self-promotion in that? !