Discoveries on home ground have been rather more down to earth this week. My 10-year-old had his long-awaited Sex Ed at school. "They kept calling the willy a penis," he said. "Pe-niss. Pee-nis. Penis," he pronounced experimentally, giving it a different enunciation each time. "So what's the - er - female equivalent?" I asked. "Oh, that's a barragina," he said knowledgeably.

The school is obviously doing a good job - if more boys associated this area of the body with barracudas there would be an enormous drop in the number of teenage pregnancies.

Teachers get few perks in their job - holidays don't count, because after all they wouldn't need such long recovery periods if they didn't teach - but sex education lessons must give them stories to dine out on for the next year.

The question-and-answer session is the bit they really look forward to: this year, according to my son, questions ranged from "Is it like pumping up a bicycle?" to "Why do they go `uh! uh! uh!' when they are making babies?" And what did the teacher reply to that last one? "Because it's nice."

Well, yes, that's one possibility, certainly. Or it could just be because the woman is remembering all the things she had forgotten at Tesco earlier, I explained.

Oh, and there was one more question, said my son bashfully. Well-versed in Usborne (How Does Your Body Work?) prose from an early age, he had asked "How do the nuts get from the man's willy to the woman's barragina?" I hope his teacher recognised that this was a case of mixed metaphors, rather than confused anatomy - he did, of course, mean seeds.

There's really nothing worse than other people's children being cleverer than yours, is there? Books for Keeps, a specialist magazine about children's books, dedicates half a page to reviews by children. In the current issue one of the 11- to 12-year-olds describes Nelson Mandela's autobiography as "undoubtedly the best book I have ever read", while another reviews a Robert Cormier novel as "an enigmatic and enthralling thriller". It's bad enough reading in the Sunday supplements about what intelligent adults will be packing for the beach this year while you get stuck in to the latest Joanna Trollope, without being made to feel inferior by some jumped- up little swot, but still ...

Inspired by their precocity, I thought I might enlist the help of my 13-year-old in my tri-annual task of reviewing children's books (children only read books during religious festivals and the summer holidays, as far as newspapers are concerned); so I managed to tear him away from Teletubbies and gave him a Robert Westall to read. "Good," he grunted afterwards, admittedly using one more syllable than he usually does when communicating with adults. Words like enigmatic and enthralling do not exactly trip off the tip of his tongue or the nib of his pen. This is clearly a parental failing - obviously we practise an impoverished vocabulary at home. We should have used anatomically correct words right from the start and introduced each Thomas the Tank Engine book with a critical analysis. Or maybe we should just ban Teletubbies.

Polarising the fox-hunting debate into a show-down between heartless townies and honest-to-goodness country folk was a clever move. All I will add to the argument is that if life in the country is so boring that watching some poor creature being ripped to pieces is considered sport, then they really should consider moving to the town.

Comments