Who laughs last

DIARY OF A SINGLE FATHER I can feel the horny hand of le flic qui rit pouncing upon my shoulder, as I pick up the pix from Boots
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Years ago, in the age of innocence, we would plug in the gramophone and play Seth old favourites. He loved them all, especially "The Laughing Policeman". I listened to it again recently, and wondered how I had failed to notice its decidedly sinister undertone. The lyric hisses with cat- and-mouse menace. Listen, if you dare!

"He opened his great mouth, it was a wondrous size. He said, `I must arrest you.' He didn't know what for. And then he started laughing till he cracked his jaw. Ha ha ha ha ha ha..." Actually this is more like Kafka than Tom and Jerry. I question my motivation. Had it been my subconscious intention (against my late wife's better judgement) to turn our son into a tortured genius (like his dad)?

Ever since my wife's death, friends have been demanding a photo of her, an affectionate aide memoire. Recently, I lighted on a picture that I liked. It was taken on an idyllic afternoon, a lifetime ago. Fran is sitting at the river's edge. She is wearing a purple T-shirt and shorts. Seth is holding a fishing net and wearing nothing. He is perched on his mother's lap, and his willy is at the exact centre of the composition. Worse, it is reflected in the water, doubling the offence. "Would you mind if I have this copied?" I ask the willy's owner. He takes a cursory look. "Why should I?" he enquires.

Then it occurs to me that other folk might. Wasn't the Hayward Gallery recently forced to withdraw a portrait of a young girl from their Mapplethorpe exhibition because - as the newspapers put it - she wasn't wearing any knickers?

I can already feel the horny hand of le flic qui rit pouncing upon my shoulder, as I pick up the pix from Boots. "I say, old chap," he purrs, "don't you think you're showing an unnatural interest in this young lad's private parts?" "But constable," I reply, "the photograph was taken with love and firm discipline within the family set-up." "In which case," he says, winking at the assistant, and laughing fit to bust, "could you explain why you need 20 copies"

Our next encounter is at the Mapplethorpe show itself, which I attend with Seth. "How old is that boy?" he asks. "Fifteen," I reply. "So much for the innocence of youth," he quips. When I saw Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio at the ICA, x years back, my biggest fear was that the sadomasochistic images would turn me on, undermine my heterosexuality, and transform me into one of the Village People. So I guess I am taking a bit of a risk in exposing my son to the same in his formative years.

As it happens, he doesn't bat an eyelid. Even the image of a biker using his lover's mouth as a piss-pot is sterilised by the cameraman's classical aesthetic.

Seth's critical comment on that is brief - "Yuck!" What does disturb him is the fact that we are being trailed around the gallery by a fellow who is probably not attracted by my looks. "That man is giving me the creeps," he complains. It's time to go.

I certainly don't like the idea of a stranger stalking my child, but I also wonder why paedophiles have suddenly become the black sheep of the Zeitgeist, whereas the man who elects to use the rod as a pedagogic tool is accorded heroic status. Surely the loving hand, however misguided, is more benign than the agent of pain? Not when you have a government which openly boasts of its sadistic skills. "Yes, it hurt. Yes, it worked." Words that hark back to Tom Brown's Schooldays, when heads were heard to say as they whacked their pupils, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you", or, "One day you'll thank me for this". And they do.

It is the weapon of choice for the election of 1997. The Argentineans have been defeated, as have the miners; now it is the turn of Seth's less ruly contemporaries. The ploy may even work, given that the English resent children even more than they fear them; are, in a word, paedophobes. Consequently, the idea that their offspring should enjoy childhood is anathema. They are more comfortable with the vision of savages at war with civilisation.

And so the Tories happily turn back the clock and revive the language of colonialism, transforming the younger generation into latter-day darkies, feral denizens of urban jungles. The fact that they have lived their entire lives under Thatcherism (both full-fat and semi-skimmed) is apparently irrelevant.

The Laughing Policeman flicks through his notebook. "Investigations have revealed a dreadful conspiracy to poison childish minds," he reads. "As a result of which, all real teachers were secretly replaced by a pernicious bunch of hippies, pinkos, homos, and other weirdos, who worshipped the Anti-Christ, and preached anarchy." Laughing his head off, he boasts, "I arrested the whole lot of `em."

Having smashed their idols the conquerors must set about domesticating the natives. First, they will be stripped of their togs and compelled to wear the outfit of a gent's club. Thereafter, they will be civilised by missionaries, who will explain the difference between right and wrong, and instruct them in the teachings of Jesus Christ, with particular emphasis on the phrase, "suffer the children"

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