Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Shrieking of Fiends

We kill our children in New Zealand.

A year or so ago, our parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove a clause from the Crimes Act that gave adults the right to defend themselves against charges of child-bashing by saying they used reasonable force to discipline the child. The Holy Ones, of course, got up in arms, and, inspired by their snarling and vengeful gods, got up a petition, demanding a referendum to rescind this most sensible and loving of amendments. All very democratic. The referendum was granted, and the voting papers came out, with a thoroughly ambiguous and leading question: "Do you think parents who smack their children for disciplinary reasons should be criminalised?"

Well, it is an impossible question to answer. I, like most people, understand that sometimes a light smack is the last resort, and may be the only thing that will work at the time. So, given those circumstances, I would have to say that no, I wouldn't like to see anyone hauled before a judge.

But what about the person who smacks their child as a second, or even first resort? What if that person "lightly" smacks their child ten, fifteen, twenty times a day? "It's only light smacking, yer onner. No harm done, eh?" Wink wank nidge nudge say no more.

Once, when caught up in a bit of fundamentalist christianity (no capitals on purpose, folks.) , I heard that adage "Spare the rod and spoil the child" and I acted on it. Another couple were in a similar situation to us: young couple with baby, raising our hands in joy to the lord. Sigh. We babysat for them one evening, and - with their permission (spare that rod, people..) - smacked their baby when it cried. I struck that baby once. Disciplinary, you see. Necessary: god said so.

I still have nightmares.

I now read, or hear, that injunction quite differently. I now say spare the rod by putting it away. And then spoil the child. Spoil the little bugger rotten. Loving a child never hurt it, so love that child a little more today than you did yesterday.

I can understand smacking a child, I really can. But I cannot understand the urge to hit a child twice, and nor can I understand why we should want something put back onto our statute books that allows the hitting of a child.

I was one of 13% of people who voted "yes", to keep a smack a criminal matter. The law will be used sensibly, and not vindictively. But it'll be there, and perhaps we'll grow into a nation that looks with repugnance on the violence we mete out to the most defenceless of us.

We kill our children, here in New Zealand. Because we still, deep in our feral hearts, believe that bashing a kid will help him or her grow up.

This is one aspect of our culture that I despise.

READING: "Bodies Left behind", by Jeffery Deaver. My word. More red herrings than a John West canning factory, more twists than a drunken snake's passage across a road. I have found myself saying "Oh, no!" out loud. A lovely piece of storytelling.

LISTENING TO: Simon & Garfunkel, "Bridge Over troubled Water". Still great, after all these years.

WORD OF THE DAY: Discipline. With love, not violence.


He suddenly felt small and defenceless, and very, very scared.

Adam had stayed behind, watching this man who was being taken from him. Adam shivered in the heat, a violent shudder that wracked his body. His eyes misted over, and he blinked, vision suddenly betraying him again, and again the rage came upon him: the man down there was a stranger, not his father. This man was an impostor, a fraud, some fell creature who picked fussily through the rocks, who was shrunken and frail, not real at all: a phantasm of fading flesh. Adam shakes himself, shivering in the Grecian afternoon, and looks again. His dad, Henry Talbot, looking up at him, and the power of his love is like a blow.
Henry paced the small patch of land where heroes lie in peace, and wondered why he was here. He turned and looked back up the slope at his son. Long and lean of limb, with a golden glow of youth and health that was almost impossible to believe. He eyes filled with tears, and he didn’t know whether they were tears of love, of self-pity, or of fear. He blinked, and looked back up the hill. He paused, shocked, breath snatched from his lips. By the boy: a young woman, glowing in the afternoon light. She’s tall, willowy, dressed in a simple white shift. She looks down at him, and he is sure he can see a golden glint in her eye. Henry loses his footing, and looks down to find the rock that had turned under his feet. When he looks up again, she is gone. He walks up to his son, and embraces him, and says, simply, “Let’s go back home. To Gussy’s. To see Mum.”
“But Uncle Don. The grave?”
“Enough of death, Adam. Enough.”
“That girl.”
“What girl, Dad?”
“I thought I saw a girl standing next to you.”
“I didn’t notice.”
He’s curiously light on the bike on the way back down the coast. Adam is hardly aware he’s there: the pillion in a million. In truth, Henry is preoccupied, his eyes dull and unseeing, his thought as fast as light. He’s relaxed on the motorbike, because he just doesn’t care enough right now. They go straight back to Gussy’s, not even taking the detour to the cemetery where Henry’s uncle lies, his dust mere star-stuff.
That night Henry is lying next to Mary. It’s three in the morning, and neither of them has slept; not because of the heat that thickened the air, nor for any hankying or pankying, oh no! Mary, to be honest, was as randy as a stoat, but Henry had something on his mind that he needed to sort through. He’d been quiet and moody since going away with his son, and Adam had retreated as well. All she knew was that she had to give them time, and they’d come to her. Adam had taken her aside earlier that night, and sobbed as he’d told her how he’d seen his father on the previous sunny afternoon at Thermopylae, and she’d understood precisely: she, too, had seen the shadow over her Henry.
And so she lay in bed next to him, uncomfortably warm, wondering if the heat radiating from Henry’s body was healthy, well of course it wasn’t, and he turned to her, feeling her restlessness, her concern, her love, and he turned and said, “I think I saw Miriam.” And he turned away.
“Who?” She’s shocked. Appalled. Suddenly angry. This is not her Henry! This bloody foulness is stealing my Henry away from me!
“Our daughter, Miriam,” he said, and went on to tell her about his experiences at Thermopylae, at the Gates of Fire. “I don’t want to believe it was her,” he went on, after describing the girl with the glint of light in her eye. “But Adam didn’t see her –“
“He doesn’t see every girl in the world,” she said, her anger fading. He’s kept his scepticism.
“He would have noticed this one, mark my words.” Henry stopped, his mind a-jumble, a-jingle, a-jangle. “Look, this goes against everything I’ve ever thought or –“
“You are a bit fragile at the moment.”
“Not that fragile,” he said. “Not that fragile.” His voice was thin and stretched, and Mary was again suddenly afraid for him. Because he was that fragile, and he didn‘t know it. All at once the ground shifted under her feet, and the colours of her life twisted like smoke in the wind.
What was it they‘d said, those white-coated ravens at the hospital? That they could expect mood and personality changes as the tumour grew?

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