Arts: A week in radio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE ARE so many ways of damaging children - we bully them, we coddle them, we spoil them and we flatter them. We wreck their confidence, we fill their heads with stupid fantasies, we give them our own terrible examples to follow, or we leave them alone in front of the television. We even tell them what life is really like.

The difficulty of knowing which things hurt children was brought home in the first part of Let the Rumpus Begin! (Radio, 4, Monday to Friday), a series in which Michael Rosen discussed the subversiveness of children's literature.

On Monday, he discussed the book from which the title is derived (though it is a misquotation): Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. This much-loved nursery classic, about a small boy who reacts to a row with his mother by sailing away to a land full of monsters, whom he tames by the power of his eyes, was condemned on publication as terrifying and "psychologically damaging".

Rosen had dug up some brilliant examples of child-centred idiocy. Among other things, it was suggested that because Max is sent to bed without any supper, the book might make sensitive children afraid of being deprived of basic sustenance.

A fascinating programme, but, oddly, it passed without comment over the book's most disturbing moment: as Max prepares to sail back home, the wild things implore him to stay with the words "We'll eat you up - we love you so!" Even as an adult, I am left feeling slightly queasy by that line, which introduces a note of threat into love and security.

The idea that a picture book can hurt children was put into some sort of perspective by Suffer the Little Children (Radio 4, Tuesday), Gail Foley's report on the public inquiry into sexual abuse of children in state-run homes in North Wales.

Foley mentioned early on that the inquiry has received little attention in the press, and that is a scandal. But this programme wasn't the best antidote. It wanted the listener to be shocked but was unwilling to be shocking. To be fair, I cannot imagine what a programme worthy of this subject would be like. Perhaps cruelty to children is a topic that can't be looked at directly.

In Voices (Radio 3, Tuesday), the tenor Ian Bostridge sang Britten's "canticle" Abraham and Isaac together with the boy soprano Edward Downes.

At one point, inviting his son to be sacrificed, Abraham sings: "Come hither my child, thou art so sweet,/ Thou must be bound both hands and feet." This image of murderous love was more piercing than anything achieved by Suffer the Little Children: a sideways glance that revealed more than the hard, straight stare.

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