Of quick smacks in anger, and anger over smack

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The Independent Online
I HAVE decided to come out; I am a smacker. Only occasionally, in the past, and not hard; but I'm like Virginia Bottomley, who told a childcare conference on Tuesday that she had smacked her children when they were young, and supported the right of child-minders to do the same. Smacking, as we now know, is next to child abuse, and - if we are to believe what we read in the newspapers, some of which have been canvassing mothers (rarely fathers, typically) on their attitudes - is almost never done these days. At least, those asked couldn't remember having done it, so I am sure they didn't.

On Wednesday, I happened to be in a drama class of 12- to 13- year-olds when the question of punishment came up. The girls, sweetly reasonable, all said you should talk to children. The boys weren't having any of that poncy rubbish; they were for major violence. One told the story of a crying child in a supermarket whose mother didn't hit him; the others shook their heads despairingly. 'If you don't hit small kids, they go on crying, and then they think they can get everything they want,' a boy pointed out. 'How else can kids be disciplined?' others asked. 'Parents have got to hit you, because teachers aren't allowed.' One boy supplied a handy slogan, which I suspect he hadn't made up himself: 'If you can't hear, you must feel.'

This all seemed very depressing. We are told (Demos told us last week) that attitudes among young men and women are converging. But there was every sign of unfettered machismo here. Perhaps they'll outgrow it, but I have this awful suspicion that it might re-emerge at some point, like a Dormant Thing in a horror movie. (Even, perhaps, when they have children and the question of domestic responsibility becomes more practical than theoretical.)

As a child, I much preferred being hit to the threat that my father would be angry when he got home, which is puzzling, because in practice he never was angry. Even so, the threat felt real enough, and now I'm out at work, the last thing I want is to be demonised into Mrs Punishment, coming home full of fury. George Bernard Shaw argued that you should never hit a child except in anger, which still seems to me the most sensible thing anyone has said on the subject. The trouble is, boys seem to get angry so fast.

I ARRIVED home from the drama class to the biggest real-life drama our street has seen since my next- door neighbours were raided for drugs. That was the day the police found heroin worth pounds 12m packed into boxes in their loft (right next to my loft]), which turned out to be Britain's biggest-ever drugs haul. We are rarely the centre of excitement in our street: we are the centre of buzzing helicopters, petty burglary and smashed car windows, but top-level crime had previously eluded us. So we were pretty proud that one of our modest terraced houses had yielded such a find. We can see the effects of heroin on the streets nearby, and probably in some of our own petty burglaries and smashed car windows as well. This particular batch of drugs had been removed, and would lead (we fondly thought) to long imprisonment for someone.

The trial of my next-door neighbour and her employer - who, she alleged, had asked her to look after the boxes - started last week. The defence demanded the name of the informant who had tipped off the police to search the house - a bizarre request, to which the judge, for reasons best known to himself, acceded. The prosecution dropped the case, and the anger in our street was palpable: 'You wonder why the police don't give up altogether,' people muttered darkly to each other over the fences. It's not that anyone dislikes the woman next door - she doesn't speak English, so it's hard to know whether she's nice or not - but there was a feeling that on such evidence, the police ought to have been able to convict someone. Now my neighbour is back, and I suppose we must behave as if nothing ever happened, smile in the street and so on: she is, after all, innocent in law. But it's difficult to forget that Britain's biggest drugs haul was stashed in her loft.

THE revelation that the new Bishop of Durham was convicted of gross indecency in a public toilet 26 years ago has left those without benefit of a theology degree thoroughly bemused. Does the church think homosexuality is OK or not? Who can tell, when it publicly condemns what it calls 'Acts of Homosexuality' but, according to the Independent, 200 parish priests in London are practising gays? How are the mere unordained supposed to fathom what the church really thinks when it is prepared to turn a blind eye to these 'Acts' among the laity, but deplores them in the clergy? Unless, of course, the clergy can be found to have succumbed to temptation (funny, that's what I thought sex was) in which case they can be forgiven. And why doesn't the church condone long-term gay relationships, when it advocates them so strongly for heterosexuals? Perhaps it prefers its gay priests to go cottaging. It all smacks of muddled thinking, anyway, and, some would say, hypocrisy. But no, wait a minute, the bishop says he isn't now and never has been a homosexual. So that's all right then.

I PITY the person trying to find a jury for the O J Simpson case. Not because everyone knows too much already (though they do: even I've heard of the ice-cream defence, though I couldn't tell you what it is, and I know about the rising sales of white Ford Broncos following O J's flight along the freeway, and I've never even been to Los Angeles). Not even because many people are set to be rejected on the basis of body language (apparently you can spot O J hero- worshippers by the way they move). But because no sane person will want to spend six months holed up in a hotel unable to communicate with the outside world; not even with their families. The jurors will have to live without television (and this is America: do people who can do this even exist there?). Only weirdos will be eligible; it could be O J's best line of defence yet.

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