Writers should know better than to lend their names to a cause

Not for a novelist to say yea to banning anything. Least of all Rushdie, who has suffered more than most

Share

Calm, calm. Myself I'm talking to. But there's a touch of Laertes in me when it comes to calm. "That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard, / Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot / Even here between the chaste unsmirched brow / Of my true mother."

Calm, calm. Myself I'm talking to. But there's a touch of Laertes in me when it comes to calm. "That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard, / Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot / Even here between the chaste unsmirched brow / Of my true mother."

All that stuff. And the reason for my agitation? Well, there's more than one. The first an affectionate article about donkeys in this very newspaper last week. The second the near unanimity of those near and dear to me in the matter of not smacking children, never mind how hard, never mind with what intention, never mind whether a smacking is what's called for, because a smacking never is what's called for, not ever ever ever.

The two - donkeys and beatings - are for me intimately related. I took a serious tumble from a donkey too old to hobble let alone trot in my seventh or eighth year, landing on the cold ribbed sands of Blackpool, where I lay like Prince Andrei at Austerlitz, staring into the careless infinity of the sky, aware that I would not ride or enjoy the regard of my parents or suffer so keen a humiliation - for no other child had fallen from a donkey in the history of Blackpool - ever again. And yet there was a curious peace in it. Call it an epiphany. An apprehension of God's presence in his absence, and a satisfaction in having faced the worst. Five or six years later, while a psychotic French teacher was thrashing me in front of the whole class with a gym shoe he thought it amusing to call Percy, I experienced a similar sensation. Because all was ill, all at last would be well.

I do not suggest that this is reason to beat our children, or to throw them off a donkey. Life will mete out its cruel lessons without our intercession. Indeed there is an argument, given the inevitability of psychotic French teachers, for us to be unremitting in the love we show our children, as a sort of consolation in advance. Never mind that this is no preparation for what awaits them. There is no preparation for what awaits them.

But a smack, reader! A mere butterfly chastisement, a barely perceptible excursion into discipline, the briefest expression of one's annoyance - for a parent, too, has feelings ...

Calm, calm. I know what's being said out there. There is no butterfly chastisement, there can be no barely perceptible, for when it comes to smacking children, it would seem, we must desert the subtle discriminations embedded in the English language and call not just a spade a spade, but everything which approaches a spade - shovel, trowel, fork, spoon, spatula, chopsticks, pencil, feather - no matter how remote or preposterous the resemblance. Thus Salman Rushdie - "We should avoid weasel words like 'smacking' and 'tapping on the leg'. Hitting is hitting." To which the answer is, no it isn't. Even hitting isn't hitting, which is why we have adverbs to denote the sort of hitting that hitting is. What my French teacher did to me was not a hit by some other name. Nor was it a version of "a tap on the leg". I have suffered "a tap on the leg" and I know the difference. Percy the gym shoe was employed to administer a public thrashing, and a public thrashing is not a hitting either.

Strange to me that a novelist would seek to concertina language to promote a cause, however noble that cause is. But then that's what causes do - they simplify. Which is why no novelist should ever lend his name to one. Ban smacking? Not for a novelist to say yea to banning anything. Least of all Salman Rushdie, who has suffered more than most people from the banners, having himself been the subject of a fatwa. Yes, I know - a fatwa is not a ban, a ban is not a fatwa. One is considerably more extreme than the other - my point precisely - just as a hit is more extreme than a tap.

That not everybody agrees with me - calm, calm - is evident from the letters pages of this newspaper. One of last week's correspondents put smacking children on a continuum that leads to the bombing of Dresden, a conceit so disproportionately violent that I would put its proponent on a continuum that leads to Attila the Hun, Hannibal Lecter and Beast Number 666. Another, writing from Bristol University's School of Law, echoed Salman Rushdie in finding smack and slap "mere euphemisms", and then made an alarming jump to the "sexual fondling" of children, arguing that we should no more tolerate the lightest tap than we should tolerate "the slightest degree of sexual contact" with them. God help the parent, in that case, who finds himself before a judge educated at Bristol University School of Law, charged with kissing his child goodnight. Kissing being but "a weasel word" for sexual abuse.

I recall Blake Morrison's profoundly upsetting account of bathing a child in As If, his book about the Bulger case, a scene calculated to remind us that our certainties are illusions, that boundaries are never as distinct as we would like to think they are, but that things which might look the same might not be the same. Which is why we have different words for them. And why we cannot call those differences euphemistic. In the spaces between a tap and and a smack and a hit reside refinements of action and consequence without which neither novelist nor lawyer can operate. But calm, calm.

There is only one place for me. At a little table in Planet Organic, where I can drink carrot juice and ginger. Meditate a while. Think love. Read notices. Spanish lessons. Pilates. House for rent on foothills of Himalayas. London Laughter Club - No Jokes Just Natural Joy. "Wonder will follow wonder," someone writes in support of that principle, "miracle will follow miracle and today I choose to feel light and cheerful."

Now tell me, in all honesty, that the person who wrote that doesn't deserve a smack.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform