E Jane Dickson: Staying Afloat

'The casual vice of the Greek gods leave Con red-faced and shaking with indignation'
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The Independent Online

"You know Zeus, Mum?" says Con. "He's really horrid, sometimes."

"Who is, darling?" I answer, swiping two pairs of shoes - and the sleeve of my white shirt - with Scuff-Kote. "I don't suppose he means to be."

Given the vogue for ever more recondite children's names, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a little Zeus or Vulcan in the queue for the ice-cream van, but it turns out it's the president of the immortals who's got Con's goat.

"Yes, that Zeus," Conor confirms. "He's a bugger, you know."

It is just conceivable, I suppose, that the story of Ganymede has been done on Blue Peter, but I'm disinclined to give benefit of the doubt and fine Con an hour's TV for swearing.

"But he really is a b..., a bad person. Do you know he ate his own babies and sicked them up again? Do you think that's the kind of thing a god should do?"

Con's moral sense, as with most six-year-olds, is strictly diametric; you have your goodies and your baddies and they get what they deserve. Literature has, thus far, supported this notion; Aslan defeats the White Witch, the Big Bad Wolf gets boiled in his own cauldron. Once you hit mythology, however, the whole moral edifice starts to shake. Con cannot, for the life of him, see why Perseus should be constantly dumped on, and the compromised virtues and casual vice of the Greek gods leave him red-faced and shaking with indignation like a small James Robertson Justice. "It's just not fair," he says, stoutly.

"Well," I tell him, "the Greeks believed in Fate, and Fate isn't supposed to be fair. It's how each person deals with his fate that matters."

"Like Oedipus," says Clara, with the airy superiority of an older sister. "Fate made him fall in love with his mother."

"What's wrong with that?" Con asks.

Clara rolls her eyes. "You can't marry your own mother, you idiot. Or you'd have to poke your eyes out."

"Mum!" he roars, "Clara called me an idiot and said she'll poke my eyes out."

"Did not," says Clara, mouthing "idiot" again, until Conor barrels into her and the two of them fight like Furies. Wading in to separate them, I curse Oedipus and find myself longing for the certain morals of the Moomintrolls.

Three days later, Con comes to me for advice. "The thing is, Mum, we've been making Valentines in school, and I was going to give mine to you. But maybe boys aren't supposed to give cards to their mums."

"Why not? I think it's a lovely idea."

"Well," says Con, darkly, "you know what happened to Weedy-puss."

"Never you mind about Weedy-puss." I say. "and give your old mum a hug."

"But why did he poke his eyes out?"

"I really don't know," I tell my boy. "It's complex."