A childhood. Nancy, Titty and Roger enjoyed one, and so did Milly-Molly-Mandy. As a society, we idolise the traditional notion of an age of innocence, where children have no greater worry than running out of corned beef on a camping trip. And as the possibility of making this fuzzy pastoral vision a reality appears to become eroded, we worship it all the more. Now, our children are taken from their selfish mothers and sent to nursery care at six months old. Schools leech all enthusiasm from children with endless neurotic preparation for the dreary and ill-conceived phonics ‘check’, and national tests. Roads are too choked with cars to play in or even cross alone. Computer games featuring vivid animations of bloody hand-to-hand combat are the only ‘safe’ option beyond scheduled and structured sports and cultural clubs. Downtime is dead. Long live Call of Duty. And don’t forget the internet. One minute they are playing a harmless game on the Haribo marketing website, the next they are being devoured alive by a paedophile carnivore from Munich. So far, so scary. Risk has been outlawed and low-level hysteria prevails, as parents long for their children to bask in an endless summer of cornfields, welly boots and picnics wrapped up in gingham cloths. I am fairly typical. I will do anything to drag my kids away from the telly into the garden to look at snails. I am disgusted by their foul, capitalist, homogenised character pyjamas, and long for the day their cheap transfers flake off in the wash. I’ll admit it, I want my boys in flannel shorts fishing for sticklebacks in the local ditch. If only I was brave enough to ever let them out of my sight for a single moment.
Even the activity of simply taking photographs of our children is now laced with neuroses. In an era defined by social media and the ubiquity of the selfie it seems odd that it should be so fraught. I recently received a communiqué from my son’s nursery school detailing why we would not be allowed to take photographs of our children receiving their little ‘graduation’ diplomas. The risk that parents might put a picture on Facebook, and that the picture would be seen, and used as a sex-aid by paedophiles is too great, apparently. If the risk of a pervert seeing a fully-clothed picture is so high, why have the graduation ceremony at all? What if one of the parents at the actual ceremony is a child abuser? What if a paedophile is SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE and looking at our fully-clothed children in real life? Westerners may criticise Muslims for covering their women to 'protect' them from the sexual advances of men but we apparently want a similar thing for our children. Never before have I really been forced to face – through actual experience – the full silliness of this modern-day mania, where paedophiles have a quasi-religious significance. Let your child be seen and they will be snatched away by an unemployed loner who lives in a porn-strewn bedsit and smells of wee. It leaves me longing for the Red Legged Scissorman.
I won’t be protesting, however. If the nursery staff really believe this interpretation of their local authority’s policy, so be it. And I have no desire for some equally crazed stickler from Ofsted to undermine their good work with an ‘inadequate’ rating. But I have found a way around the problem: as in a court of law, there is no prohibition on drawing. I shall be sitting on the front row with my pencil in hand. And putting it on Facebook afterwards.